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The Greeks believed that the Iliad and the Odyssey were com¬ 
piled by Homer, and seven Greek cities claim to be the place 
of his birth. Nothing is known of his life or date, nor can it 
be proved that the same person compiled both works, but the 
quality and unity of the structure in each book indicates one 
author, who may for convenience be called Homer. Modern 
scholarship now places him somewhere in Ionia in about 700 


E. V Rieu, editor of the Penguin Classics from 1944 to 
1964, was bom in 1887 and was a scholar of St Paul’s School 
and of Balliol College, Oxford. He was appointed Manager 
of the Oxford University Press in Bombay in 1912, and served 
in the Mahratta Light Infantry during the First World War. 
He worked as Educational Manager and Managing Director 
for Methuen & Co. until 1936, when he became their Aca¬ 
demic and Literary Adviser. He was President of the Virgil 
Society in 1951* and Vice-President of the Royal Society of 
Literature in 1958. Among his publications are The Flattered 
Flying Fish and other poems , and translations of the Odyssey, the 
Iliad , Virgil’s Pastoral Poems , the Voyage of Argo and The Four 
Gospels, in the Penguin Classics. E. V. Rieu died in 1972. 









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This translation first published 1946 

Copyright 1946 by E V. Rieu 
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• ‘ ’ 


' - 



book i Athene visits Telemachus 


n The Debate in Ithaca 


hi Telemachus with Nestor 


iv Menelaus and Helen 


v Calypso 


VI Nausicaa 


VII The Palace of Alcinous 


VIII The Phaeacian Games 


ix The Cyclops 


x Circe 


xi The Book of the Dead 


xii Scylla and Charyhdis 


xiii Odysseus lands in Ithaca 


xiv In Eumaeus Hut 


xv Telemachus Returns 


xvi Odysseus meets his Son 


xvii Odysseus goes to Town 


xviii The Beggar in the Palace 


xix Eurycleia recognizes Qdysseus • 



xx Prelude tafhe Crisis * * “ ^ 


xxi The Great Bow 


xxii The Battle in the Hall ’ 


xxi ii Odysseus and Penelope 

34 * 

xxiv The Feud is ended 

351 , 

Greek Gods in the Odyssey 

V f* /* ■ 

' ( , « ' 

* 5 fi ' 


. J 

CEN-'R' 1 . LJSRaRV St 

ACC. . . 




This version of the Odyssey is, in its intention at any rate, a 
genuine translation, not a paraphrase nor a retold tale. At the 
same time, and within the rules I have set myself, I have done 
my best to make Homer easy reading for those who are un¬ 
familiar with the Greek world. Nevertheless, they are bound to 
find here much that is strange and I beg them to bear with me 
patiently through a few preliminary pages, so that I may pro¬ 
vide them beforehand with the answers to some at least of the 
questions that will occur to them as they read. 

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have from time to time afforded a 
first-class battleground for scholars. In the nineteenth century in 
particular, German critics were at endless pains to show, not 
only that the two works are not the product of a single brain, 
but that each is a piece of intricate and rather ill-sewn patch- 
work. In this process Homer disappeared. 

By now he has been firmly re-established on his throne and 
his readers may feel as sure that they are in one man’s hands as 
they do when they turn to As You Like It after reading King 
John* But this restoration depends on a judicious re-examina¬ 
tion of the internal evidence and has brought little new to light 
about the man and his life. It is beyond question that he is the 
earliest surviving Greek writer; probable that he lived in the 
tenth century before Christ in one or other of those cities which 
the Greeks had established on the Aegaean coast of Asia Minor; 
and quite likely that he actually committed his poems to writ¬ 
ing, though that art was still perhaps hardly known save to the 

* This is not to say that in so ancient a text one or two lines here and there 
may not be later interpolations. Yet the only longer passage in the Odyssey 
which I find valid reasons for suspecting is that beginning at 1 . 67 of Book XX, 
where Penelope, in a prayer addressed to the goddess Artemis, tells her a story 
in which she, Artemis, is referred to in the third person. 



minstrel fraternity to which he belonged. The rest, including 
his blindness, is legend or guesswork; and the reader who tries 
to glean from his poems something of the man, as apart from 
his art, will find himself baffled by the most impersonal and 
objective of authors. 

The Iliad and Odyssey are twin aspects of a single theme - the 
story of the Trojan War and its aftermath. Together they con¬ 
stitute the first expression of the Western mind in literary form 
- the earliest, at all events, which we possess, for it will be ob¬ 
vious even to those who read them in translation that two such 
masterpieces could not have sprung into being without artistic 
antecedents. In form they are epic poems; but it will perhaps 
make their content clearer to the modem reader if I describe the 
Iliad as a tragedy and the Odyssey as a novel. It is in the Iliad that 
we hear for the first time the authentic voice of the Tragic 
Muse, while the Odyssey, with its well-knit plot, its psychologi¬ 
cal interest, and its interplay of character, is the true ancestor of 
the long line of novels that have followed it. And though it is 
the first, I am not sure that it is not still the best. Let the new 
reader decide for himself. 

Each of the two poems is complete and independent as a work 
of art, with an atmosphere ofits own, yet, as we have seen, they 
share a common background in the Trojan War; and of this 
war something must now be said. 

The city of Troy or Ilium, which in Homer’s account was 
besieged for ten years and finally sacked by the Greek king 
Agamemnon and his feudal supporters, has been identified by 
archaeologists with Hissarlik, an ancient settlement near the 
coast of the Aegaean in the north-west comer of Asia Minor, 
whose remains show traces of repeated demolition and rebuild¬ 
ing. It is quite likely that a marauding force from European 
Greece played a destructive part in its chequered life. But this is 
not to say that Homer’s account is to be taken as history. Homer 
was neither a historian nor an archaeologist - the very ideas of 
history and archaeology were non-existent in his day - and we 



worked up a mass of legendary and mythical material, of very 
ancient date and well known to his hearers, into a seemingly 
historical tale. His heroes and heroines were the supposed an¬ 
cestors of the nobles before whom he recited his poems. It flat¬ 
tered his audience to hear of their doughty deeds and, in the 
absence of genuine pedigrees and records, to imagine these 
divinely-descended and godlike beings as separated from them¬ 
selves by only a few generations. But in my view,* at any rate, 
they are mythical, and Homer’s historical value to us lies, not in 
his attempt to describe an actual past, but in the picture which, 
in the course of this attempt, he cannot help giving us of the life 
and manners ofhis own day. 

Before introducing the reader to the scene he will meet with 
in the Odyssey, we must briefly describe the action of the Iliad, 
which is no more than an episode in the ten years’ siege ofTroy. 
The ships of the Greek expeditionary force are lined up on the 
beach; the troops are encamped in huts beside them; the fight¬ 
ing takes place on the rolling plain between these huts and the 
city walls. Agamemnon, son of Atreus, the Greek overlord, 
with his brother Menelaus of Sparta, has induced the princes 
who owe him allegiance to join forces with him against Troy 
and Priam, its king, because Paris, one of Priam’s many sons, 
has abducted Menelaus’ wife, the beautiful Helen. The narra¬ 
tive covers only the short period of Achilles’ withdrawal from 
the fighting after a quarrel with Agamemnon, his resumption 
of arms, and the death at his hands of the Trojan prince, Hector, 
whose body is recovered from Achilles for burial by the per¬ 
sonal efforts ofhis father, King Priam. With Hector’s funeral 
the Iliad ends. Homer left it to the lesser epic poets who fol¬ 
lowed him to fill the story out at either end. 

His own work he resumedf in the Odyssey, which, though 
with many a backward look at the actual fighting, starts 
at a point in the tenth year after its end and deals with the 

★ A view that I express with some diffidence, for I feel that I have many 
scholars against me. 

f There are some slight suggestions that he wrote the Iliad first. 



adventures of the Greek chieftains on their homeward way. All 
the principal heroes are carefully accounted for, but the fate of 
one of them, Odysseus, King of Ithaca, an island off the west¬ 
ern coast of Greece, is for artistic purposes selected as the central 
theme. Menelaus, Agamemnon, and Nestor receive special treat¬ 
ment. The adventures of Menelaus, indeed, are given at such 
length in Book iv and bear so suggestive a resemblance to those 
of Odysseus that we are tempted to think that in the material at 
his disposal Homer found the legend of the Wandering Prince 
attached to the names ofboth Menelaus and Odysseus, and gave 
us two versions of the tale. At any rate there is a puzzle here for 
those who would have us believe that the pair are historical 
figures. Incidentally, it is noteworthy that apart from the death 
of Priam s daughter, Cassandra, Homer, who shows such meti- 
culous care in winding up the Greek side of the business, con¬ 
cerns himself not at all with the destinies of the Trojans and 
their allies after the Sack. 

But to return to the Odyssey — I am not going to spoil my 
readers pleasure by an analysis of the plot. Homer is the world’s 
best story-teller, and I can safely leave them in his hands. A few 
words, however, on the opening scenes may not come amiss. 
The tale begins with a council of the Olympian gods—ofwhom 
more anon - in the tenth year after the Fall of Troy. Zeus takes 
the chair, and comments first on the fate of Agamemnon, mur¬ 
dered on his return from Troy by Clytaemnestra, his wife, and 
her lover, Aegis thus; a tragic tale which Homer introduces 
here, and many times again, by way of pointing the contrast 
between Clytaemnestra’s infamy and the sterling virtue of 
Penelope, Odysseus queen. Next, Odysseus himself is dis¬ 
cussed, and it is felt that this unhappy wanderer, who, mainly 
through the enmity of the sea-god Poseidon, has for ten years 
failed to reach his home in Ithaca, should be brought back to 
his kingdom. At the moment he is detained against his will in 
the remote island of Ogygia by the nymph Calypso, a lesser 
goddess who has for seven years exercised her charms in vain 
upon him; and it is there (in Book v) that we first meet him, 



and not till Book ix that we hear what he did in the first three 
years of his ten years’ wanderings after the Sack of Troy. 

Meanwhile, to return to Book 1 , after suggesting that Hermes, 
the Envoy of the gods, should be dispatched to release Odys¬ 
seus, the goddess Athene, Odysseus’ champion and protector, 
visits his palace in Ithaca to stir his young son Telemachus to 
take active steps towards the discovery of his long-lost father, 
or, failing this, to bring to an end the intolerable situation that 
has arisen during his long absence. For we find that his faithful 
wife Penelope is besieged in her own house by a host of amor¬ 
ous and ambitious princelings from Ithaca itself and the neigh¬ 
bouring isles, each eager to wed the still attractive queen and 
even more eager to step into King Odysseus’ shoes. It is the 
doom of these Suitors that is slowly but surely worked up to in 
the magnificent climax of Book xxu. 

But I undertook to introduce the reader only to the opening 
scene. Nor, having done this, do I propose to add one more to 
the many appreciations of the Odyssey that have been penned. 
I will content myself by drawing his attention to one or two 
aspects of Homer’s genius which have struck me with even 
greater force during the long period of intimate study which 
translation involves than they did when I tackled him as a task 
at school. 

I put first the extraordinary insight, delicacy, and truth with 
which he handles his hero’s relations with members of the other 
sex -1 cannot simply say women, for at least three goddesses 
are involved, though they are by no means the less feminine for 
being divine. The princess Nausicaa is a peculiarly attractive 
figure to modem readers. Some of us, steeped in the traditions 
oflater fiction, may regret Homer’s failure to pursue Nausicaa’s 
romance to a more exciting conclusion, or may console our¬ 
selves by reading a broken heart into her last words witli Odys¬ 
seus. But Homer was neither a sex-ridden romantic nor a dis¬ 
illusioned realist, with the happy result that his picture of 
Nausicaa is as fresh and lovely now as when it was painted 
three thousand years ago. 



Next, in an age which in spite of two savage wars is still too 
ready to look askance at the barbarity of its predecessors and to 
censure the occasional brutalities that Homer seems to condone, 
I cannot help dwelling on the tenderness which he expresses (or 
rather, in some subtle manner, causes us to feel) for all those 
whom fate or their own follies have afflicted or cast down. I am 
thinking of the luckless young Elpenor, ‘not much of a fighting 
man, nor very strong in the head ’; of the woman-slave grinding 
corn in the handmill, who was ‘not so vigorous as the rest’; of 
the stricken Calypso’s lament; of Odysseus’ mother, pining in 
heartache ‘ for his wise and gentle ways ’; of the great Otus and 
Ephialtes, destroyed ‘before the down came curling on their 
cheeks’; of Cassandra’s dying cry, which lingered so long in 
Agamemnon’s ears; of the lonely Circe, ‘ decking herself out ’ in 
vain to meet Odysseus; of the faithful Eumaeus, braving the in¬ 
clement night to sleep with his pigs; ofhis Phoenician nurse cut 
off in the midst of her successful crime by Artemis with her 
gentle darts; of the suitor Amphinomus, ‘a thoroughly decent 
fellow’, who had his warning but did not heed it; of the dog 
Argus, too old and weak to greet his master with more than a 
wag of the tail; of the netted birds, ‘ who meet death where they 
had only looked for sleep ’; of the souls of the vanquished Suitors 
‘following the Deliverer down the dark paths of decay’; of 
Odysseus’ old father, Laertes, expressing his misery in rustic 
clothes; and of the blinded Cyclops with his words of endear¬ 
ment to his darling ram - perhaps the most interesting case of all, 
for here Homer actually succeeds in enlisting our sympathy for 
a cruel and disgusting monster, and does so to the detriment of 
his own hero, much as in Shakespeare’s Tempest the more our 
hearts are wrung for the unfortunate Caliban the more thor¬ 
oughly do we dislike the ruthless master who ‘ works upon him 
By now I have at least mentioned the chief human actors in 
the tale. It remains for me to repair an omission and say some¬ 
thing of that galaxy of Olympian gods whom the reader is faced 
with at the very beginning of the poem and will meet as indi¬ 
viduals on almost every page. This is no place for a disquisition 



on Greek religion, but it is worth while, before describing these 
gods and their functions, to pause for a moment and inquire 
what Homer’s attitude towards them was. 

The wrong conclusion to jump to, though I have often been 
tempted to make the mistake, is that Homer’s attitude is detached 
and sophisticated. He does believe in his gods, and that very 
vividly, but whereas the Christian conception of godhead is 
based on our creation by God in his image and likeness, with 
imperfections introduced by Satan, Homer regards his gods, 
though immortal, as made in the image and likeness of man. 
Mixed with his deep respect for their almost unlimited powers 
and his aesthetic appreciation of their beauty, he betrays a very 
tolerant understanding of their motives and frailties. This leads 
quite often, as in the famous Lay ofDemodocus in Book vm, 
to a treatment that we can only regard as humorous. But it was 
neither flippant nor irreverent. These powerful beings, who 
were so intimately connected with men’s passions and desires, 
were there to administer, not necessarily to obey, man’s moral 
code. Christian apologists of a later age made a mistake when 
they suggested that the pagans had invented the gods and their 
iniquities as an excuse for themselves. Homer never censures a 
god nor lets a mortal use a god’s misdeeds as a pretext for his 

So much, however inadequate, about Homeric religion. It 
remains to touch briefly on the artistic use which Homer made 
of the superhuman realm. The most casual reader must at every 
page be struck by the contrast between the carefree happiness of 
the Olympian company and the toiling, anxious world of men. 
This contrast is woven into the very texture of the Iliad and 
Odyssey, and is nowhere turned to better account than when 
Odysseus refuses immortality as a gift from Calypso. To us the 
device may seem artificial. Yet how effective an artifice! Modem 
novelists might well envy Homer its use. 

And now a few words on the individual gods who play a part 
in Odysseus story. Zeus, son of Cronos, is supreme - the Father 
of gods and men. It is left a little doubtful to what extent he is 



independent of Fate ,* but at all events it is he who administers 
the fate of men. Justice and the punishment of the transgressor 

are in his hands. So is mercy, and, perhaps because supreme 

‘ * ' --IHS 

by Greek artists as a handsome bearded man in early middle age. 
His consort, Here, is little more than mentioned in the Odyssey. 

His brother Poseidon, thegodofthe earthquake, who rules the 
sea, as Zeus rules the heavens, is a far less attractive and imposing 
figure, at any rate in the Odyssey, where he is represented as pet¬ 
ting the hero with implacable though not unj ustified resent- 



Hades is another brother of Zeus. Remote from Olympus, he 
and his consort Persephone are the austere and dreaded powers 

that rule in the realm of the dead. 

The youthful and attractive Hemes we have already met in 
his capacity as Ambassador of Zeus. He also serves as Guide to 
the dead. And Homer makes many references to his great ex¬ 
ploit in slaying Argus, the monster with the hundred eyes. 

Ares, the War-god; laughter-loving Aphrodite, the goddess of 
Love; and lame Hephaestus , the Master-craftsman, though fre¬ 
quently heard of in the Iliad, play only incidental parts in the 
Odyssey and may be summarily dealt with here. So may Phoebus 
Apollo, the Archer-king, and Artemis, the Virgin Huntress, 
though both are often mentioned in the poem as responsible for 
sudden deaths. 

There are other and lesser deities whom we need not here 
describe, since Homer himself introduces them with sufficient 
clarity, but there remains one major figure, Pallas Athene, who 
commands our attention, since she plays a leading, if not the 
heroine’s, part in the plot. Athene is a daughter of Zeus, and in¬ 
herits many of his powers and qualities. She is not all-powerful 
nor all-wise. Her impetuosity is sometimes curbed by Zeus, and 
she dreads her uncle Poseidon; but subject to these Olympian 
limitations she stands in Homer for the intellectual and moral 
* See the curious passage about Sarpedon, Iliad , xvi. 440 fF. 



qualities which were most admired in man and with which he 
so liberally endows Odysseus - cunning, resolution, industry, 
and unfaltering courage. It is she too who has given Penelope 
her outstanding gifts, 4 her skill in fine handicraft, her excellent 
brain, and that genius she has for getting her way \ When Homer 
does not describe the disguise she has for the moment adopted, 
we may think ofher as a tall and beautiful woman, with brilliant 
eyes, clad in a white robe, with the aegis, a goatskin cloak, across 
her breast, a crested helmet on her head, and a long spear in her 
hand. Most vivid and alive of Homer’s gods, she dominates the 
Odyssey. And this is true even though there are moments when 
we are at a loss to say whether the poet means us to imagine her 
actual presence or to understand only that his characters are ex¬ 
ercising the mother-wit which she personifies. Finally, though 
the rest of Homers gods are by no means distinguished for 
nicety in their ideas of fun, he has endowed his favourite god¬ 
dess with a sense of humour as delicate as his own. 

I do not propose to embarrass the reader with elaborate rules 
for the pronunciation of the names of these gods and the other 
proper names in Homer; but two hints may be useful. The final 
-e should be sounded (Athene has three syllables, Penelope four, 
Here two). And secondly, -eus is a diphthong (Zeus rhymes 
with puce, and Odysseus has three syllables only). Here too, 
while on the subject of names, I must point out that although 
I have talked, throughout this introduction, of Greece and the 
Greeks, the reader will not come across these names in the text. 
They were not used by Homer, nor were the terms Hellas and 
Hellenes applied by him to the whole of what we call Greece, 
except in one highly doubtful case. The people he describes were 
known to him as Achaeans, and their country as Achaea, though 
he calls them also Argives and Danaans with an apparent im¬ 
partiality that we need not inquire into here. 

The rest of what I have to say is addressed more especially to 
those who know Greek and are interested in the problems in¬ 
volved in the translation of Homer. It has been my aim to pre¬ 
sent the modem reader with a rendering of the Odyssey which 



he may understand with ease and read with appreciation. I real¬ 
ize that in Homer, as in all greater writers, matter and manner 
are inseparably blended, and I have sought, in so far as English 
prose usage allowed it, not only to give what he says but to give 
it in his own way. But style is one thing and idiom another. In 
the very attempt to preserve some semblance of the original 
effect, I have often found it necessary - in fact my duty as trans¬ 
lator - to abandon, or rather to transform, the idiom and the 
syntax of the Greek. Too faithful a rendering defeats its own 
purpose; and if we put Homer straight into English words, 
neither meaning nor manner survives. 

Consider the following version of xxi, 402-3, by a pair of 
scholarly translators whom I quote with awe, for my genera¬ 
tion was brought up on their work: 4 Oh, that the fellow may 
get wherewith to profit withal, just in such measure as he shall 
ever prevail to bend the bow! ’ That is a tolerably close transla¬ 
tion, but quite apart from the fact that the modem reader can 
scarcely get at the meaning without retranslating the sentence, 
it cannot fail to suggest to him that Homer must have sounded 
uncommonly turgid to his original audience. And this, we have 
good reason to suppose, is not the fact. 

Take, again, the famous phrase * winged words \ I submit that 
nobody knows what this means in English, though it may be 
beautiful. Are we then to leave it at that, or should we seek to 
discover and to reproduce the effect aimed at by the original 
cliche ? For such I believe it to have been; and an examination of 
all the passages where it is used leads me to think that it indicates 
an utterance delivered with particular care and emphasis, or 
under the influence of some strong emotion - and I have tried 
to translate accordingly. 

Much the same applies to the expression ‘What a word has 
escaped you by the fence of your teeth! * This is intelligible, but 
unidiomatic, English for ‘ What nonsense! ’ Must we flout Eng¬ 
lish usage to preserve it, if we feel convinced, as I do, that Homer 
took it over, as an idiom discounted by familiar use, from a long 
line of bardic ancestors, much as he inherited the epithet ‘fast.’ 



for ships, and has, as a result, to talk of a ‘swift fast ship’ when 
he means a real clipper? 

This brings me to the vexed question of the recurrent epithets. 
They are a marked feature of Homer’s style, and as such I have 
endeavoured to deal with them faithfully (though not without 
an element of variety), since there are few cases* where English 
is altogether recalcitrant to their use. I think that, whether used 
for ornamental or for deictic purposes, they too were a legacy 
from the past. But genius has a way of its own with traditional 
material; and Homer not only added to his legacy but extended 
its use in several interesting and subtle ways. For instance, Odys¬ 
seus and other princes are ‘godlike’ in right of their divine 
descent, and as a rule the word has no more significance than 
‘royal ’. But inxxi. 254 the context surely gives it the full value 
ofits original meaning: Odysseus is a superman. Then there are 
a number of curious cases in which, unless we credit him with 
self-conscious art, Homer must be regarded either as having 
used a stereotyped expression in a meaningless way, or as having 
‘nodded’ - which would amount to the same thing for such a 
stylist. I take it as an axiom that Homer never nods, and I suggest 
that where (in xxiv. 57) he gives the Achaeans their usual epi¬ 
thet ‘ great-hearted ’, though they are behaving like cowards, he 
does so in order to produce an exactly opposite effect - and suc¬ 
ceeds. Again, Phemius’ lyre is called ‘tuneful’ on an occasion 
when it is not only silent (which would not matter) but likely to 
remain silent for ever as far as Phemius is concerned (xxn. 332). 
Or, if this is pushing the idea too far, consider the one occasion 
in the whole work when ‘early’ Dawn is late yet Homer per¬ 
sists in calling her ‘early’. The artifice, if such it is, is untrans¬ 
latable. But there is a kind of half-way usage where we can 
almost follow the Greek. Dogs are styled ‘noisy’, and rightly 
so in xiv. 29, where they bark at a stranger, but somewhat sur¬ 
prisingly also in xvi. 4 where they are greeting a friend and are 
expressly stated not to have barked. Here the meaning, and 

* One occurs in xxn. 439, where the servants are told to use ‘porous 


the translation ‘usually so obstreperous*, are easily arrived at. 

I have cited these instances to make my point that Homer does 
a great deal with his adjectives and does not always use them in 
a conventional manner. In his handling of the personal epithets, 
in particular, we can see how Homer the novelist triumphed 
over Homer the traditional bard. Just as ‘noisy’ dogs, do not 
always bark, and all ‘fast’ ships are not clippers, so ‘prudent* 
Penelope, the ‘wise’ Telemachus, and the ‘stalwart* or ‘resource¬ 
ful* Odysseus are often found, as their characters evolve in the 
hands of their maker, to behave in a manner far removed from 
exemplary wisdom, patience, and sagacity. Indeed they are 
much too human and too well-drawn for such dull and uni¬ 
form perfection* And I feel that Homer often leaves them their 
epithets in cases where they do not apply, because their use will 
actually sharpen his hearers* perception of the characters he is 
building up. Nor, curiously enough, does his apparently incon¬ 
sequent use of the epithets on inappropriate occasions detract 
from their effect when more pertinently used. I feel, at any rate, 
that there are cases where adverbial translation is justified, and 
I have acted accordingly, though I should be hard put to it if I 
were asked to lay down formal rules for such procedure. 

Two points of detail, and I have done. Over the ‘ wine-dark* 
sea I have abandoned my own principles and thrown up my pen 
in despair. I know that it is wrong and ought to be ‘ wine-faced* 
or something to that effect. But the English language has failed 
me, just as it fails me, though for other reasons, when I am 
tempted to write of the ‘fishy* sea. What a pity it is that so 
natural an epithet should have been reserved by us for such un¬ 
savoury uses. 

But if there are some occasions when a translator of Homer 
mayjustly inveigh against the shortcomings ofmodem English, 
there are many more, I fear, when it is his own that are to blame. 

* Apollonius Rhodius, always careful not to copy Homer, is more sparing 
in his use of laudatory epithets, but presents us with even greater contrasts 
between the traditional reputation of his characters and their actual behaviour. 
As often as not, Jason is left speechless and paralysed by situations that call for 
heroic action. 



And I had better come to an end, rather than invite too close a 
scrutiny of these, or, worse still, fall into the most heinous crime 
that a translator can commit, which is to interpose the veil ofhis 
own personality between his original and the reader. 

E. v. R. 

May 1945 


Michael Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B in 1952 marks 
the beginning of a new era in Homeric studies. One of the lead¬ 
ing pioneers in the field is Professor T. B. L. Webster, who in 
his brilliant work From Mycenae to Homer, London (Methuen) 
1958 and New York (Praeger), has even proved able, through 
a minute examination of the Homeric poems, to give us some 
idea of the nature of Mycenaen poetry, none of which has as 
yet come to light. But though all who wrote about Homer 
before 1952 must already be feeling that their words will 
eventually stand in need of considerable revision, much work 
remains to be done; and at the moment I content myself by 
stating that on page 9 of the above Introduction I seem to have 
antedated Homer by at least a century. 

e. v. R. 

- ±$T JVL y- 

June jp5p 





The hero of the tale which I beg the Muse to help me tell is that re¬ 
sourceful man who roamed the wide world after he had sacked the holy 
citadel of Troy. He saw the cities of many peoples and he learnt their 
ways. He suffered many hardships on the high seas in his struggles to 
preserve his life and bring his comrades home. But he failed to save 
those comrades, in spite of all his efforts. It was their own sin that 
brought them to their doom, for in their folly they devoured the oxen of 
Hyperion the Sun, and thegod saw to it that they should never return. 
This is the tale I pray the divine Muse to unfold to us. Begin it,goddess, 
at whatever point you will. 

All the survivors of the war had reached their homes by now 
and so put the perils ofbattle and the sea behind them. Odysseus 
alone was prevented from returning to the home and wife he 
longed for by that powerful goddess, the Nymph Calypso, who 
wished him to marry her, and kept him in her vaulted cave. Not 
even when the rolling seasons brought in the year which the 
gods had chosen for his homecoming to Ithaca was he clear of 
his troubles and safe among his friends. Yet all the gods were 
sorry for him, except Poseidon, who pursued the heroic Odys¬ 
seus with relendess malice till the day when he reached his own 

Poseidon, however, was now gone on a visit to the distant 
Ethiopians, the farthest outposts of mankind, half of whom live 
where the Sun goes down, and half where he rises. He had gone 
to accept a sacrifice of bulls and rams, and there he sat and en¬ 
joyed the pleasures of the feast. Meanwhile the rest of the gods 
had assembled in the palace of Olympian Zeus, and the Father of 
men and gods opened a discussion among them. He had been 
thinking of that nobleman, Aegisthus, whom Agamemnon’s 




Son Orestes killed, to his own great renown; and it was with 
Aegis thus in his mind that Zeus now addressed the immortals: 

* What a lamentable thing it is that men should blame the gods 
and regard us as the source of their troubles, when it is their own 
wickedness that brings them sufferings worse than any which 
Destiny allots them. Consider Aegisthus, who flouted Destiny 
by stealing Agamemnon’s wife and murdering her husband 
when he came home, though he knew the ruin this would entail, 
since we ourselves had sent Hermes, the keen-eyed Giant-slayer, 
to warn him neither to kill the man nor to make love to his wife. 
For Orestes, as Hermes pointed out, was bound to avenge Aga¬ 
memnon as soon as he grew up and thought with longing ofhis 
home. Yet with all his friendly counsel Hermes failed to dissuade 
him. And now Aegisthus has paid the final price for all his 

The goddess of the flashing eyes, Athene, took him up at 

‘ Father ofours, Son of Cronos, King of Kings; Aegisthus’ end 
is just what he deserved. May all who act as he did share his fate! 
It is for Odysseus that my heart is wrung - the wise but unlucky 
Odysseus, who has been parted so long from all his friends and 
is pining on a lonely island far away in the middle of the seas. 
The island is well-wooded and a goddess lives there, the child of 
the malevolent Atlas, who knows the sea in all its depths and 
with his own shoulders supports the great columns that hold 
earth and sky apart. It is this wizard’s daughter who is keeping 
the unhappy man from home in spite of all his tears. Day after 
day she does her best to banish Ithaca from his memory with 
false and flattering words; and Odysseus, who would give any¬ 
thing for the mere sight of the smoke rising up from his own 
land, can only yearn for death. Yet your Olympian heart is quite 
unmoved. Tell me, did the sacrifices he made you by the Ar- 
gives’ ships on the plains of Troy find no favour in your sight? 
Why so much bitterness against him, Zeus?’ 

‘Nonsense, my child!’ replied the Gatherer of the Clouds. 

‘How could T fnrcr&t - *5 tt _ *-- 




only the wisest man alive but has been the most generous in his 
offerings to the immortals who live in heaven. It is Poseidon, 
Girdler of Earth, who is so implacable towards him on account 
of the great Polyphemus, the Cyclops whom Odysseus blinded. 
For Polyphemus is not only chief ofhis tribe but the son of the 
Nymph Thoosa, daughter ofPhorcys, Warden of the Salt Sea 
Waves; and it was Poseidon who gave her this child when he 
slept with her in her cavern hollowed by the sea. That is why, 
ever since Polyphemus was blinded, Poseidon the Earthshaker 
has kept Odysseus in exile, though he stops short ofkilling him. 
But come now, let all of us here put our heads together and find 
a way to get him home. I am sure Poseidon will relent. For he 
cannot possibly hold out alone against the united will of the 
immortal gods.’ 

Bright-eyed Athene answered him: ‘Father of ours, Son of 
Cronos, King of Kings; if it is really the pleasure of the blessed 
gods that the wise Odysseus shall return to Ithaca, let us send our 
messenger, Hermes the Giant-killer, to the isle of Ogygia, to 
tell the fair Calypso at once of our decision that her long-suffer¬ 
ing guest must now set out for home. Meanwhile I myself will 
go to Ithaca to instil a little more spirit into Odysseus’ son and to 
embolden him to call his long-haired compatriots to an assembly 
and speak his mind to that mob of suitors who spend their time 
in the wholesale slaughter ofhis sheep and fatted cattle. After 
which I shall send him off to Sparta and to sandy Pylos to seek 
news ofhis father’s return. It is possible that he may hear ofhim; 
and the effort will redound to his credit.’ 

When Athene had finished she bound under her feet her lovely 
sandals ofuntamishable gold, which carried her with the speed 
of the wind over the water or the unending land, and she seized 
her heavy spear with its point of sharpened bronze, the huge 
long spear with which she breaks the noble warriors’ ranks, 
when she, the Daughter of the almighty Father, is roused to 
anger. Thus she flashed down from the heights of Olympus. On 
reaching Ithaca she took her stand on the threshold of the court 
in front of Odysseus’ house; and to look like a visitor she 



[ 105 - 

assumed the appearance of a Taphian chieftain named Mentes, 
bronze spear in hand. 

She found the insolent Suitors sitting in front of the door on 
the hides of oxen they themselves had slaughtered, and playing 
draughts, while their squires and pages were busy round them, 
the squires blending wine and water in the mixing-bowls, and 
the pages carving meat in lavish portions or washing the tables 
with sponges before they set them ready. 

No one noticed her at first but Telemachus, who was sitting 
disconsolate among the Suitors, dreaming of how his noble 
father might come back from out of the blue, drive all these 
gallants pell-mell from the house, and so regain his royal honours 
and reign over his own once more. Full of these visions, which 
were natural in such company, he caught sight of Athene and 
set off at once for the porch, thinking it a shame that a stranger 
should be kept standing at the gates. He went straight up to his 
visitor, shook hands, relieved him ofhis bronze spear and gave 
him cordial greetings. 

‘Welcome, sir, to our hospitality! ’ he said. ‘You can tell us 
what has brought you when you have had some food/ 

With this he led the way and Pallas Athene followed. Once 
inside the lofty hall, he took her spear and put it away by one of 
the great pillars in a wooden rack with a number of other spears 
belonging to the stalwart Odysseus. He then conducted her to 
a carved chair, over which he spread a rug, and seated her there 
with a stool for her feet. For himselfhe drew up an inlaid easy- 
chair, well away from the crowd ofSuitors, for fear that his guest 
might take offence at the uproar, and finding himself in such ill- 
mannered company turn with distaste from his meal. Moreover, 
he wished to question him about his absent father. 

Presently a maid came with water in a handsome golden jug 
and poured it out over a silver basin so that they could rinse their 
hands. She then drew a polished table to their side, and the staid 
housekeeper brought some bread and set it by them with a choice 
of dainties, helping them liberally to all she could offer. Mean- 

tirllllo A /./l tl-K -C-SM .U vt aJT 


meats he had picked from his board, and put gold cups beside 
them, which a steward filled up with wine as he passed them on 
his frequent rounds. 

The Suitors came swaggering in and took their seats in rows 
on the settles and chairs. Their squires poured water on their 
hands and the maids put piles of bread in baskets beside them, 
while the pages filled the mixing-bowls to the brim with drink. 
They helped themselves to the good things spread before them; 
and when all had satisfied their hunger and thirst, the Suitors 
turned their thoughts to other pleasures, to the music and danc¬ 
ing without which no banquet is complete. A herald brought a 
beautiful lyre and handed it to Phemius, the minstrel whom they 
had pressed into their service. He had just struck the first notes 
for some delightful song, when Telemachus leant across to the 
bright-eyed Athene, and whispered to her so that the others 
could not hear: 

T hope, sir, that I shall not embarrass you by my candour. 
How easy it is for that gang over there to think of nothing but 
music and songs! They are living scot-free on another man - a 
man whose white bones are rotting in the rain upon some distant 
land or rolling in the salt sea waves. One glimpse of him in 
Ithaca, and they’d give all they have for a faster pair oflegs! But 
as it is, he has come to some dreadful end. No one on earth can 
bring us a spark of comfort by telling us that he’ll come back. 
The day for that is gone for ever. 

‘ However, do tell me who you are and where you come from. 
What is your native town? Who are your people? And since 
you certainly cannot have come on foot, what kind of vessel 
brought you here? How did the crew come to land you in 
Ithaca, and who did they claim to be? Then there’s another thing 
I’d like to know. Is this your first visit to Ithaca, or have my 
people received you before - as is very likely, for my father used 
to entertain in our house just as much as he visited abroad?’ 

‘ I will tell you everything,’ answered the bright-eyed goddess 
Athene. ‘My father was the wise prince, Anchialus. My own 
name is Mentes, and I am chieftain of the sea-faring Taphians. 




As for my arrival in Ithaca, I came with my own ship and crew 
across the wine-dark sea. We are bound for the foreign port of 
Temese with a cargo of gleaming iron, which we mean to trade 
for copper. My ship is not berthed near the city, but over there 
by the open country, in Reithron Cove, under the woods of 
Neion. As for our families, the ties between them go a long way 
back, as the old lord Laertes would tell you if you went and 
asked him. For I gather that he no longer comes to town, but 
lives a hard and lonely life on his farm with an old woman- 
servant, who puts his food and drink before him when he has 
tired himself out by dragging his legs up and down his vineyard 
on the hill. 

‘The reason for my presence here is this. I actually heard that 
he was home -1 mean your father. And though it seems that the 
gods are putting every difficulty in his way, I still maintain that 
the good Odysseus is not dead, but alive somewhere on earth. 

I think he must be on some distant island out in the sea, in the 
hands of enemies, savages no doubt, who keep him there by 
force. Now I am no seer or soothsayer, but I will venture on a 
prophecy to you - one that I feel is inspired and will come true. 
Your father will not be exiled much longer from the land he 
loves so well, not even if he’s kept in irons. Trust Odysseus to 
get free: he always finds a way. 

‘But tell me, are you really Odysseus’ son? How you have 
grown! You certainly have his head and his fine eyes. The like¬ 
ness is startling to one who met him as often as I did, though that 
was before he embarked for Troy and the Argive captains all 
set out in their great ships. From that day to this, Odysseus and 
I have never set eyes on each other.’ 

Telemachus answered discreetly. ‘My friend,’ he said, ‘I shall 
be candid too. My mother certainly says I am Odysseus’ son; 
but for myselfl cannot tell. It’s a wise child that knows its own 
father. Ah, if only I were the son of some lucky man overtaken 
by old age in the midst ofhis belongings! As it is, and since you 
ask me, the man whose son they say I am is the most unfortunate 


3 * 

- 255 ] 

‘And yet,’ said the goddess of the flashing eyes, ‘with you as 
you are, and with Penelope for your mother, I cannot think that 
your house is doomed to an inglorious future. But here is an¬ 
other matter I should like you to explain. What is the meaning 
of this banquet? Who are all these people? And what is your 
concern in the affair? No sign of a subscription supper here! 
Perhaps it is a dinner-party or a wedding-feast? At any rate the 
banqueters appear to be making free of your house in a most 
improper way. Any decent man would be disgusted at the sight 
of such unseemly behaviour.’ 

‘My friend,’ Telemachus soberly replied, ‘you may well ask 
what is going on. There was a time when this house was by way 
ofbeing prosperous and respectable. That was when Odysseus, 
whom you mentioned just now, was still among us. But since 
then, the gods have had other and more sinister designs; and 
they have served him as they never served a man before: they 
have made him vanish. His death itself, if he had fallen among 
his men at Troy or died in friendly arms when all his fighting 
was done, would have caused me less distress. For in that case 
the whole Achaean nation would have joined in building him a 
mound, and he would have left a great name for his son to in¬ 
herit. But there was to be no famous end for him; the Storm- 
Fiends have spirited him away. He has ceased to exist for us, and 
to me has left nothing but sorrow and tears. Nor is it only on his 
account that I am so anxious and unhappy, for the gods have 
gone on piling troubles on my head. Of all the island-chieftains 
in Dulichium, in Same, in wooded Zacynthus, or in rocky 
Ithaca, there is not one that isn’t courting my mother and wast¬ 
ing my property. As for her, she neither refuses, though she 
hates the idea of remarrying, nor can she bring herself to take 
the final step. Meanwhile they are eating me out of house 
and home. And I shouldn’t be surprised if they finished me 

Pallas Athene gave vent to her indignation. ‘ For shame! ’ she 
cried. ‘It is certainly high time your lost father came to grips 
with this impudent gang. If only he could show himself at this 




moment at the palace gates, with his helmet, his shield, and his 
two spears, just as he was when I first saw him, drinking and 
rollicking in our house, that time he came up from Ephyre after 
a visit to Ilus son ofMermerus. He had sailed there in search of a 
deadly poison to smear on the bronze tips ofhis arrows, and Ilus, 
a god-fearing man, refused to supply him; but my father, who 
loved him dearly, gave him what he wanted. Yes, if only Odys¬ 
seus, as he then was, could get among these Suitors, there’d be 
a quick death and a sorry wedding for them all. But such matters, 
ofcourse, lie on the knees of the gods. They must decide whether 
or no he’s to come back and settle accounts in his palace. Mean¬ 
while I do urge you to find some way of ridding the house of 
these Suitors. Listen carefully to what I suggest. Tomorrow 
morning call the Achaean lords to Assembly and make an an¬ 
nouncement to them all, asking the gods to witness what you 
say. Tell the Suitors to be off, each to his own place. As for your 
mother, if she is set on marrying, let her go back to her father’s 
house. He is a man of consequence, and the family will provide 
a marriage feast, and see that she has a generous dowry, as is only 
right for a daughter they value. For yourself, here is my advice. 
It is sound, and I hope you will take it. Choose your best ship, 
man her with twenty oars, and set out to discover why your 
father has been gone so long. Someone may be able to tell you 
about him, or you may pick up one of those rumours from 
heaven that so often spread the truth. Go to Pylos first and cross- 
examine the excellent Nestor; then on to Sparta to see red- 
haired Menelaus, since he was the last of the Achaeans to get 
home from the war. If you hear that your father is alive and on 
his way back, you might reconcile yourself to a year more of 
this wastage. But if you learn that he is dead and gone, return to 
your own country, build him a mound with all the proper 
funeral rites, and give your mother away to a new husband. 
This settled and done with, you must cudgel your own brains 
for some way of destroying this mob in your house, either by 
cunning or in open fight. You are no longer a child: you must 
put childish thoughts away. Have you not heard what a name 


Prince Orestes made for himself in the world when he killed the 
traitor Aegisthus for murdering his noble father? You, my 
friend - and what a tall and splendid fellow you have grown! - 
must be as brave as Orestes. Then future generations will sing 
your praises. 

‘But my crew must be tired of waiting for me, and I’ll be off 
now to my good ship. I leave the matter in your hands. Think 
over what I have said.’ 

‘ Sir/ said the wise Telemachus, ‘you have spoken to me out 
of the kindness of your heart like a father talking to his son; and 
I shall never forget your words. I know you are anxious to be 
on your way, but I beg you to stay a little longer, so that you can 
bathe and refresh yourself. Then you can go to your ship in a 
happy frame of mind, taking with you as a keepsake from my¬ 
self something precious and beautiful, the sort of present that 
one gives to a guest who has become a friend/ 

‘No/ said the bright-eyed goddess. ‘I am eager to be on my 
way; please do not detain me now. As for the gift you kindly 
suggest, let me take it home with me on my way back. Make it 
the best you can find, and you won’t lose by the exchange/ 

The goddess spoke and the next moment she was gone, van¬ 
ishing like a bird through a hole in the roof. But she left Tele¬ 
machus full of spirit and daring, and concerned for his father 
even more than he had been before. He felt the change and was 
overcome with awe, for he realized that a god had been with 

The young prince now rejoined the Suitors. He found them 
listening in silence to a song which their admirable bard was 
singing to them about the Achaeans’ return from Troy and the 
disasters that Pallas Athene made them suffer. In her room up¬ 
stairs, Penelope, wise daughter oflcarius, caught the words of 
his stirring ballad and came down from her quarters by the steep 
staircase, not alone, but with two waiting-women in attend¬ 
ance. Face to face with her suitors the great lady drew a fold of 
her bright head-dress over her cheeks and took her stand by a 
pillar of the massive roof, with one of her faithful maids on 

34 ODYSSEY • BOOK I [33<S- 

either side. Then, bursting into tears, she brokein on the worthy 

‘Phemius/ she said , 4 with your knowledge of the ballads that 
poets have made about the deeds of men or gods you could en¬ 
chant us with many other tales than this. Choose one of those 
now for your audience here, and let them drink their wine in 
peace. But give us no more of your present song. It is too sad: 
it never fails to wring my heart. For in that catastrophe no one 
was dealt a heavier blow than I, who pass my days in mourning 
for the best ofhusbands, the man whose name rings through the 
land from Hellas to the heart of Argos/ 

But Telemachus would not let Penelope have her way. 
‘Mother/ he said, ‘ why grudge our loyal bard the right to enter¬ 
tain us as the spirit moves him? Surely it is not the poets that are 
responsible for what happens, but Zeus himself, who deals with 
each of us toilers on earth as he sees fit? We cannot blame 
Phemius if he chooses to sing of the Danaans’ tragic fate, for it is 
always the latest song that an audience applauds the most. You 
must be brave and nerve yourself to listen, for Odysseus is not 
the only one who has never returned from Troy. Troy was the 
end of many another man. So go to your quarters now and 
attend to your own work, the loom and the spindle, and tell the 
servants to get on with theirs. Talking must be the men’s con¬ 
cern, and mine in particular; for I am master in this house/ 

Penelope was taken aback; and she retired to her own apart¬ 
ments, for she was impressed by the good sense that her son had 
shown. Attended by her maids, she went upstairs to her bed¬ 
room, and there she wept for Odysseus, her beloved husband, 
till bright-eyed Athene closed her eyes in grateful sleep. 

Meanwhile in the shadowy hall the Suitors burst into uproar, 
and each man voiced the hope that he might share her bed. 

But the wise Telemachus called them to order. ‘ Gentleman/ 
he cried, ‘from you who court my mother, this is sheer inso¬ 
lence. For the moment, let us dine and enjoy ourselves - quietly, 

I insist, for it is a lovely thing to listen to a minstrel such as we 
have here, with a voice like a god. But in the morning I propose 


that we all take our places in assembly, so that I can give you 
formal notice to quit my palace. Yes, you can feast yourselves 
elsewhere, and eat your own provisions in each other’s homes. 
But if you think it a sounder scheme to destroy one man’s estate 
and go scot-free yourselves, then eat your fill, while I pray to 
the immortal gods for a day of reckoning, when I can go scot- 
free though I destroy you in this house of mine.’ 

It amazed them all that Telemachus should have the audacity 
to adopt this tone, and they could only bite their lips. But at last 
Antinous, Eupeithes’ son, spoke up in answer: ‘ It seems that the 
gods are already helping you, Telemachus, by teaching you this 
bold and haughty way of speaking. Being your father’s son, you 
are heir to this island realm. Heaven grant that you may never 
be its king!’ 

But Telemachus was not at a loss. ‘Antinous,’ he answered. 

‘it may disappoint you to learn that I should gladly accept that 
office from the hands of Zeus. Perhaps you argue that nothing 
worse could happen to a man? I, on the contrary, maintain that 
it is no bad thing to be a king - to see one’s house enriched and 
one’s authority enhanced. However, the Achaeans are not short 
of princes; young and old they swarm in sea-girt Ithaca. And 
since the great Odysseus is dead, one of them must surely suc¬ 
ceed him. But I intend at least to be master of my own house 
and the servants whom my royal father won for me in war.’ 

This time it was Eurymachus son of Polybus who answered 
him: ‘Telemachus, the gods must of course decide who is to be 
our king in sea-girt Ithaca. But by all means keep your own be¬ 
longings and rule your own house. God forbid that anyone 
should come and lay violent hands on your property, as long as 

Ithaca has people in it, 

‘But, my dear Telemachus, do tell us something about that 
guest of yours. Where did the man come from? What account 
does he give of his country? Who might his people be? And 
what is his native place? Does he bring news of your father s 
coming, or is he here on business of his own? He jumped up and 
was gone so suddenly that he gave one no time to get to know 

3<5 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [ 4II _ 

him, as I should gladly have done, for to judge by his looks he 
was a man of gende birth.’ 

‘Eurymachus,’ the wise young prince replied, ‘it is certain 
that my father will never come back. So I no longer believe any 
rumours, whatever their source, nor have I any use for the skill 
of such diviners as my mother may call in for consultation. As 
for my guest, he is an old friend of my father’s from Taphos. He 
introduced himself as Mentes, the son of a wise man Anchialus, 
and chieftain of the sea-faring Taphians.’ In this way Tele- 
machus described the visitor whom in his heart he knew for an 
immortal goddess. 

From then till dusk they gave themselves up to the pleasures 
of dancing and the delights of song. Night fell and found them 
making merry still; but at last they went off to bed, each to his 
own house. Telemachus, with much to turn over in his mind, 
retired to his own bedroom, a lofty chamber in the fine court¬ 
yard with a clear view on every side. He was escorted by Eury- 
cleia, who carried a blazing torch. This Eurycleia, daughter of 
Ops and granddaughter of Peisenor, was a servant of sterling 
character whom Laertes had procured at his own cost long ago, 
when she was still a girl, for the price of twenty oxen. He had 
treated her in his home with all the deference that is paid to a 
loyal wife, though for fear of his lady’s displeasure he had re¬ 
spected her bed. It was she who now served as torch-bearer to 
his grandson; and she who of all the household women loved 
him most, for she had nursed him as a child. 

Telemachus threw open the door of his comfortable room, 
sat down on the bed and took off his soft tunic, which he put in 
the wise old woman’s hands. After folding and smoothing it 
out, she hung it on a peg by the wooden bedstead, and with¬ 
drew from the bedroom, pulling the door to by the silver handle 
and shooting the bolt home by means of its leather thong. And 
there, all the night long, under his woollen blanket, Telemachus 
lay planning in his mind the journey that Athene had pro- 



As soon as Dawn with her rose-tinted hands had lit the East, 
Odysseus’ son put on his clothes and got up from his bed. He 
slung a sharp sword from his shoulder, bound a stout pair of 
sandals on his comely feet and strode from his bedroom looking 
like a god. He at once gave orders to the clear-voiced criers to 
call his long-haired compatriots to Assembly. The heralds cried 
their summons and the people quickly mustered. When all had 
arrived and the assembly was complete, Telemachus himself set 
out for the meeting-place, bronze spear in hand, escorted only 
by two dogs that trotted beside him. Athene endowed him with 
such magic charm that all eyes were turned on him in admira¬ 
tion when he came up. The elders made way for him as he took 
his father’s seat. 

Aegyptius, an old lord bent with years and rich in wisdom, 
was the first to speak. This was natural, for his own soldier son 
Antiphus had sailed with King Odysseus in the big ships to 
Ilium the city ofhorses, only to be killed by the savage Cyclops 
in his cavern home when he made the last of his meals off 
Odysseus’ men. And although he had three other sons, Eury- 
nomus, who forgathered with the Suitors, and two who 
worked steadily on their father’s estate, Antiphus was always in 
his mind. His grief was inconsolable; and it was with tears for 
this lost son that he now rose to address the gathering: 

‘My fellow-countrymen, I beg your attention. Not once 
since the gallant Odysseus sailed have we been called to As¬ 
sembly or held a session here. Who is it that has summoned us 
now, one of the young men or one of the older generation? 
And what emergency has made him take this step? Perhaps he 
has heard that the army is coming back, and may wish to share 
with us the early news he has received? Or is there some other 

38 ODYSSEY • BOOK II [ 32 - 

matter of public concern that he intends to raise for discussion? 
“Good man!” I say, in any case. Our blessings on him! May 
Zeus reward him with his heart’s desire!’ 

His auspicious words brought comfort to Odysseus’ son. 
Eager to unburden himself, he left his seat without further ado 
and took his stand in the middle of the assembly. The herald 
Peisenor, who was an expert in debate, thrust the speaker’s staff 
into his hand; and Telemachus, turning first to old Aegyptius, 

‘ My venerable lord, you shall have the truth at once. The man 
who summoned this gathering is not far to seek. It was I - suffer¬ 
ing under a burden peculiar to myself. Of the army’s return, I 
have no prior news. I would share it with you if I had. Nor is it 
some other question of national importance that I propose to 
bring forward, but my own private business, the affliction -1 
should say the double affliction - that has fallen on my house. 
In the first place I have lost my good father, who was once king 
among you here and gentle as a father to you all. But there was 
a far greater calamity to follow, one which may well bring my 
house to utter ruin and rob me of any livelihood I have. A mob 
of hangers-on are pestering my mother with their unwanted 
attentions, and these suitors are actually the sons of those who 
are your leaders here. Too cowardly to present themselves at 
her father’s house, so that Icarius himself might make terms for 
his daughter’s hand with the claimant he preferred, they spend 
the whole time in and out of our place. They slaughter our oxen, 
our sheep, our fatted goats; they feast themselves and drink our 
sparkling wine - with never a thought for all the wealth that is 
being wasted. The truth is that there is no one like Odysseus in 
charge to purge the house of this disease. You will understand 
that we are not equipped like him for the task, and that the at¬ 
tempt would serve only to expose our miserable weakness. Yet 
how gladly I should undertake my own defence, had I the force 
at my command! For I tell you, the things they do are past all 
bearing, and the way in which my wealth is being frittered 
away has become an outrage to decency ’; which you, gentlemen, 



should resent not only on your own behalf but as a scandal 
to our neighbours in the world around. Think of the gods! 
Have you no fear that they may requite these iniquities on your 
own heads? My friends, in the name of Olympian Zeus, in the 
name of Themis, who summons and dissolves the parliaments 
of men, I beg you to let me be and grant me leave to pine in 
solitary grief - unless by any chance you think that my good 
father was so cruel to your soldiers, whom he led, that you are 
trying to repay me with equal cruelty by the encouragement 
you give these parasites ? If only it were you yourselves that were 
devouring our treasure and our flocks, I think we should be 
better off. For in that case we should not have far to look for 
compensation. We should simply dun you up and down the 
town for the restitution of our goods till every item was repaid. 
It is your present attitude that fills my heart with a bitterness 
for which I find no cure/ 

As he spoke, his passion rose; and at the end he burst into tears 
and flung his staff on the ground. A wave ofpity swept through 
the gathering. Nobody said a word or had the heart to give 
Telemachus a sharp reply, and the silence was unbroken till 
Antinous took it on himself to answer him: 

‘ What rhetoric, Telemachus, and what an ugly show of spite! 
So you’d put us to shame, would you, and fix the blame oh us? 
You are wrong. We suitors plead “Not guilty It is your own 
mother, that incomparable schemer, who is the culprit. Listen. 
For three whole years - in fact for close on four - she has kept us 
on tenterhooks, giving us all some grounds for hope, and in her 
private messages to each making promises that she has not the 
slightest intention of keeping. And here’s another example of 
her duplicity. On her loom at home she set up a great web and 
began weaving a large and delicate piece of work. She said to us : 
“I should be grateful to you young lords who are courting me, 
now that King Odysseus is dead, if you could restrain your 
ardour for my hand till I have done this work, so that the threads 
I have spun may not be utterly wasted. It is a winding-sheet for 
Lord Laertes. When he succumbs to the dread hand of Death 


that stretches all men out at last, I must not risk the scandal there 
would be among my countrywomen here if one who had 
amassed such wealth were put to rest without a shroud/’ That’s 
how she talked; and we, like gentlemen, let her persuade us; 
with the result that by day she wove at the great web, but every 
night had torches set beside it and undid the work. For three 
years she fooled us with this trick. A fourth began, and the 
seasons were already slipping by, when one ofher women, who 
knew all about it, gave her mistress away. We caught her un¬ 
ravelling her beautiful work, and she was forced reluctantly to 
complete it. 

1 This then, Telemachus, is the Suitors’ answer to you. I’d have 
you note it well, and all the people too. Send your mother away 
and make her marry the man whom her father chooses and 
whom she prefers. She must beware of trying our young men’s 
patience much further and counting too much on the matchless 
gifts that she owes to Athene, her skill in fine handicraft, her 
excellent brain, and that genius she has for getting her way. In 
that respect, I grant she has no equal, not even in story. For of all 
the Achaean beauties offormer times, there is not one, not Tyro, 
nor Alcmene, nor Mycene of the lovely diadem, who had at her 
command such wits as she. Yet in the present case Penelope has 
used those wits amiss. For I assure you that so long as she main¬ 
tains this attitude that she has been misguided enough to adopt, 
the Suitors will continue to eat you out ofhouse and home. She 
may be winning a great name for cleverness, but at what ex¬ 
pense to you! So I say again, we will not return to our own 
estates, nor go anywhere else, until she makes her choice and 
marries one ofher countrymen/ 

‘Antinous/ the wise young prince replied, ‘it is quite impos¬ 
sible for me to cast out the mother who bore me and who 
brought me up, with my father somewhere at the world’s end 
and, as likely as not, still alive. Think, first, what I should have 
to pay Icarius if I took it into my head to send my mother back 
to him. Again, when that father of hers had done his worst to 
me, the gods would step in and let loose on me the avenging 




Furies that my mother’s curses would call up as she was driven 
from home. And finally my fellow-men would cry shame upon 
me. You may take it, then, that I shall never give the word. No; 
if a feeling of shame has any place in your own hearts, then quit 
my palace and feast yourselves elsewhere, eating your own pro¬ 
visions in each other’s houses. But if you think it a sounder 
scheme to destroy one man’s estate and go scot-free yourselves, 
then eat your fill, while I pray to the immortal gods for a day of 
reckoning, when I can go scot-free, though I destroy you in 
that house of mine.’ 

As though in answer to his words, Zeus, who was watching 
from afar, urged two eagles into flight from the mountain-top. 
For a while they sailed down the wind with outstretched 
pinions, wing to wing. But as soon as they were directly over 
the meeting-place, where the sound of voices filled the air, they 
began to flap their wings and wheel about, glancing down at the 
faces of the crowd with looks foreboding death. They then fell 
to work with their talons, ripping each other’s cheeks and neck 
on either side, and so swooped eastward over the house-tops of 
the busy town. The people stared at the birds in amazement 
as this scene was enacted before their eyes, and asked them¬ 
selves what was to come of such a portent. At last the old lord 
Haliserthes, Mastor’s son, spoke out. He knew more ofbird-lore 
and soothsaying than any man of his generation, and had his 
countrymen’s welfare at heart when he rose now to harangue 

‘People of Ithaca, hear what I have to say. And it is to the 
Suitors in particular that I address my reading of these signs. 
For them, a great calamity is rolling up. Odysseus is not going 
to be parted from his friends much longer. At this very moment 
indeed he may be close at hand, sowing the seeds of a bloody 
doom for the Suitors one and all; which means disaster to many 
of the rest of us who live under the clear skies oflthaca. Cannot 
we stop them before it happens? Or rather, won’t they stop of 
their own accord — which I assure them they would find the 
better course ? And I am not unskilled in prophecy: I speak from 




ripe experience. Consider Odysseus. Has not everything fallen 
out as I warned that self-reliant man when he embarked for 
Ilium with the Argive army? I said it would be nineteen years 
before he got home, after much suffering, with all his comrades 
lost, and that no one would know him when he did. See how 
my prophecies are coming true!’ 

It was Eurymachus son ofPolybus who rose to deal with the 
old man. ‘Greybeard/ he said, ‘enough! Run home and read 
omens to your children, or they may be getting into mischief. 
And leave me to interpret these signs. lama better man than you 
at that. After all, plenty of birds go about their business in the 
sunny air, but it isn’t every one that has a meaning. As for 
Odysseus, he has met his fate abroad; and I wish you too had 
perished with him. We should then have been spared this flood 
of divination from your mouth, and the fuel you have added to 
Telemachus’ anger. No doubt you expect a handsome present 
for your house, if he is in a generous mood. But let me tell you 
this; and what I say holds good. If you, his senior, with the 
wisdom of the ages at your disposal, misuse your eloquence to 
incite this young man to violence, in the first place it will be all 
the worse for him, and there will be nothing he can do about it; 
and for you, old man, there will be the extremely unpleasant 
consequence that we shall impose on you a fine that it will break 
your heart to pay. 

‘For Telemachus, here is my own advice: I give it openly, 
before you all. Let him tell his mother to remove to her father’s 
house, where they will make arrangements for her wedding and 
see that she has a generous dowry, as is only right for a daughter 
they value. Not till that is done, can I see the young lords giving 
up their unwelcome suit. For we are afraid of no one at all-cer¬ 
tainly not of Telemachus, for all his rhetoric. Nor, old gentle¬ 
man, do we pay the slightest attention to these prophecies that 
fall from your lips. They come to nothing and only get you 
a worse name than you had. No; Telemachus must suffer and 
see his wealth consumed without hope of restitution, so long 
as Penelope keeps us kicking our heels in this matter of her 


marriage. Meanwhile we stay, and instead of seeking other 
brides, each according to his station, we feed our hopes from day 
to day on the thought of the incomparable prize for which we 
are competing.® 

Telemachus now showed his goodjudgement. ‘ Eurymachus,* 
he said, ‘and the rest of you who pay my mother your distin¬ 
guished attentions, I have done with entreaties and will discuss 
the matter no further. The gods and the whole people here have 
heard my case. All I ask for now is a fast ship and a crew of 
twenty to see me to my journey’s end and back. For I am going 
to Sparta and to sandy Pylos to inquire after my father’s return 
from his long absence, in the hope that someone may be able to 
tell me about him or that I may pick up one of those rumours 
from heaven that so often spread the truth. If I hear that he 
is alive and on his way back, then I might reconcile myself to 
one more year of this wastage. But if I learn that he is dead 
and gone, I shall come home, build him a mound with all the 
proper funeral rites, and give my mother’s hand to a new 

Telemachus resumed his seat and Mentor rose to speak. 
Mentor was an old friend of Odysseus, to whom the king had 
entrusted his whole household when he sailed, with orders to 
defer to the aged Laertes and keep everything intact. He showed 
his good will now by rising to admonish his compatriots. 

‘My fellow-citizens,’ he said, ‘the conclusion that I, for one, 
have come to is that kindness, generosity, and justice should no 
longer be the aims of any man who wields the royal sceptre - in 
fact that he might just as well devote his days to tyranny and 
lawless deeds, if one may judge by the case of Odysseus, that 
admirable king, to whom not one of the people whom he once 
ruled like a loving father gives a thought today. Mind you, I 
pick no quarrel with these unruly Suitors for the crimes they 
commit in the wickedness of their hearts. It is their own skins 
they are risking when they wreck Odysseus’ estate in the belief 
that he is gone for ever. No, it is the rest of you sitting there in 
abject silence that stir my indignation. They are a paltry few 


and you are many. Yet not a word have they had from you m 

condemnation or restraint! , 

Up sprang Leiocritus, Euenor’s son. ‘ Mentor, you crazy tool, 
he shouted at him, ‘what senseis therein telling them to stop us. 
Odds or no odds, it would be hard on them to have to fight 
about a supper! Why, if Odysseus of Ithaca himself came up 
and took it into his head to drive us nobles from the palace be¬ 
cause he found us dining in his hall, his wife would have no joy 
of his return, much as she may have missed him, but then and 
there he’d come to an ugly end, if he faced odds in such a cause. 
So what you suggest is nonsense. But enough of this. Break up 
the meeting, and each man go back to his own lands, while 
Mentor and Haliserthes, as old friends of his father s, forward 
the arrangements for Telemachus’ expedition; though I, for 
one, have an idea that he will never bring this journey off, but 
will find himself sitting in Ithaca for many a long day, gathering 
news as best he can/ 

The assembled people were quick to accept this dismissal and 
now scattered to their homes, while the Suitors made their way 
to King Odysseus’ house. 

In the meantime Telemachus sought the solitude of the sea- 
beach, where he washed his hands in the grey surf and lifted 
them in prayer to Athene: 

‘Hear me, you that in your godhead came yesterday to my 
house. It was your command that I should sail across the misty 
seas to find out whether my long-lost father is ever coming back. 
But see how my countrymen, and, above all those bullies that 
besiege my mother, are thwarting me at every point! ’ 

Athene answered his prayer in person. She assumed the ap¬ 
pearance of Mentor and seemed so like him as to deceive both 
eye and ear when she came up and addressed Telemachus in 
these inspiring words: 

‘Today has proved you, Telemachus, neither a coward nor 
a fool, nor destined to be such, if we are right in thinking that 
your father’s manly vigour has descended to his son - and what 
a man he was in action and debate! No fear, then, that this 


journey of yours will end in farce or failure. It is only if you 
were not the true son of Odysseus and Penelope that I should 
think your plans might come to nothing. Few sons, indeed, are 
like their fathers. Generally they are worse; but just a few are 
better. And since we have seen that you are by no means lacking 
in Odysseus’ wits, and that no fool’s or coward’s role awaits you 
in life, why then, you have every reason to feel that you will 
make a success of this undertaking. So forget the Suitors now 
and dismiss their plots and machinations from your mind. They 
are fools, and there is no sense or honour in them. Nor have they 
any inkling of the dark fate that is stalking so near and will strike 
them all down in a single day. You, meanwhile, will soon be off 
on this journey you have set your heart on. For am I not your 
father’s friend, and ready to find you a fast ship and sail with you 
myself? Go home now and show yourself to the Suitors. Then 
get provisions ready and stow them all in vessels, the wine in 
jars, and the barley-meal, to keep your men fit, in well-sewn 
skins. Meanwhile, I will soon collect a crew of volunteers in the 
city. And there are plenty of ships, new and old, in sea-girt 
Ithaca. I myself will pick out the best for you, and we’ll have 
her rigged in no time and launch her on the open sea.’ 

Athene, Daughter of Zeus, had spoken, and there was no 
loitering there for Telemachus when he heard the voice of the 
goddess, but he set off at once for home with a heavy heart. At 
the palace he found the ruffianly Suitors skinning goats and 
singeing fatted hogs in the courtyard. Antinous, with a laugh, 
ran up to him, seized his hand and spoke to him as man to man : 

‘Telemachus, my fiery young orator, enough now of hard 
words and thoughts of violence. Let me see you eat and drink 
with us as usual. And I’m sure our people will make all arrange¬ 
ments on your behalf for a ship and a picked crew to get you 
straight to sacred Pylos on your noble father’s trail.’ 

But Telemachus was too wise to be deceived. ‘Antinous,’he 
said, snatching his hand away, ‘ it is out of the question for a man 
to sit down to a quiet supper and take his ease with a set of 
rioters like you. Isn’t it enough that all this time, under pretext 

46 ODYSSEY * BOOK II [312- 

of your suit, you have been robbing me of my best, while I was 
still too young to understand? I tell you, now that I’m old 
enough to learn from others what has happened and to feel my 
own strength at last, I will not rest till I have let hell loose upon 
you, whether I go to Pylos or manage here in Ithaca itself And 
I shall not be balked of thisjoumey I have spoken of. I am going, 
if only as a passenger, since it seems to have suited you better 
that I should not be allowed a ship or crew of my own/ 

A storm of insults and derision greeted this speech. ‘I do be¬ 
lieve/ said one young ruffian, ‘ that Telemachus wants to cut our 
throats! And he’s off to sandy Pylos to get help. Perhaps he’ll 
go as far as Sparta and back, since he’s so thirsty for our blood. 
Or it may occur to him that the fertile soil ofEphyre is worth a 
visit. He’ll come home with a deadly poison, pop it in the wine¬ 
bowl, and lay us all out/ 

And another of the young bloods chimed in: *Ah, but who 
knows? Ifhe too takes to seafaring, he may stray from home and 
be lost like Odysseus. And what a nuisance that would be for us! 
All the extra trouble of dividing his property between us and 
presenting his house to his mother and her bridegroom! ’ 

Telemachus let them talk, and went along to his father’s store¬ 
room, a big and lofty chamber stacked with gold and bronze, 
and with chests full of clothing, and stores of fragrant oil. There 
too, shoulder to shoulder along the wall, stood jars of mellow 
vintage wine, full of the true unblended juice, waiting for the 
day when Odysseus, for all he had suffered, should find his home 
again. There were locks to the closely-fitted, folding doors; and 
day and night the room and its treasures were in charge of the 
housekeeper, Eurycleia, daughter of Ops, Peisenor’s son, a cus¬ 
todian who had all her wits about her. 

Calling her now to the store-room, Telemachus said: ‘ Listen, 
nurse, will you draw me off some flagons of wine? And let it be 
good stuff, the best you have, next to the vintage you keep with 
such care for your unlucky king, always hoping that he may 
dodge his fate and walk in one day from heaven knows where. 
Fill me twelve flagons and put their stoppers on. And pour me 


out some barley-meal in strong leather bags - twenty measures, 
please, of mill-crushed grain. Not a word to anyone else! Get 
all the provisions together, and in the evening I shall fetch them 
myselfwhen my mother has gone upstairs for the night. I am off 
to Sparta and sandy Pylos on the chance of finding out some¬ 
thing about my dear father’s return/ 

At this, his fond old nurse, Eurycleia, burst into a wail of 

‘Dear child/ she remonstrated with him, ‘what on earth has 
put this idea into your head? What takes you that you must go 
wandering through the world, you an only son, the apple of 
your mother’s eye; and King Odysseus dead and gone, far from 
his home in foreign parts? Why, the moment your back is 
turned those fellows will be plotting mischief against you; and 
when they’ve done you to death, they’ll share all this between 
them. Sit tight where you are and guard your own property. 
There’s no call for you to take to the hard life and wander round 
the barren seas.’ 

‘ Nurse, have no fears/ the wise Telemachus replied. ‘ There’s 
a god’s hand in this. But you must swear to me that you won’t 
tell my good mother for at least a dozen days or till she misses me 
herself and finds I’m gone. We don’t want tears to spoil her 
lovely cheeks/ 

The old woman swore by all the gods that she would keep his 
secret, and when she had solemnly taken her oath she drew off 
the wine for him in flagons and ran the barley-meal into service¬ 
able bags. Telemachus then rejoined the company in the hall. 

Meanwhile another measure had suggested itself to the bright¬ 
eyed goddess Athene. Disguising herself as Telemachus, she 
went up and down through the city, picked out her twenty men 
and passed them each the word, instructing the whole company 
to forgather by the good ship at nightfall. The vessel itself she 
begged ofNoemon son ofPhronius, a prominent Ithacan, who 
was glad to let her have it. 

The sun sank, and darkness fell in all the streets. The goddess 
now ran the good ship into the water and stowed in her all the 

48 ODYSSEY • BOOK XI [390- 

gear proper to a well-found galley. This done, she moored her 
in the far comer of the haven. The gallant lads came up, and 
when the full crew had gathered around, Athene gave each man 
his orders. 

The bright-eyed goddess then decided on a further step. She 
made her way to King Odysseus’ palace and lulled the Suitors 
there into a state of pleasant drowsiness, bemusing them, as they 
drank, till the wine-cups fell from their hands. Their eyelids 
heavy with sleep, they loitered no more at table, but rose to seek 
their various sleeping-quarters in the town. Then bright-eyed 
Athene, borrowing Mentor’s form and voice once more, called 
Telemachus out of the palace building to her side. 

‘Telemachus,’ she said, ‘your gallant crew are sitting at their 
oars, waiting for your word to be off. Come; we do not want 
to delay their start.’ 

With this, Pallas Athene led the way at a smart pace and Tele¬ 
machus followed in the footsteps of the goddess. When they 
came down to the sea and reached the boat they found their 
long-haired crew waiting on the beach and the young prince 
took command. 

‘ My friends, follow me,’ he ordered: ‘we must get the stores 
on board. They are all stacked and ready at the palace. But I 
must tell you that my mother knows nothing of this, nor any of 
the servants either, except one woman whom I took into my 

He led off and the crew fell in behind. They brought down all 
the stores and stowed them in their well-built galley, taking 
their orders from Odysseus’ son. Telemachus then followed 
Athene on board. She took her seat on the after-deck and he sat 
down beside her. The sailors cast the hawsers off, climbed in, and 
took their places on the benches. And now, out of the West, 
Athene of the flashing eyes called up for them a steady following 
wind and sent it singing over the wine-dark sea. Telemachus 
shouted to the crew to lay hands on the tackle and they leapt to 
his orders. They hauled up the fir mast, stept it in its hollow box, 
made it fast with stays, and hoisted the white sail with plaited 




oxhide ropes. Struck full by the wind, the sail swelled out, and 
a dark wave hissed loudly round her stem as the vessel gathered 
way and sped through the choppy seas, forging ahead on her 

When all was made snug in the swift black ship, they got out 
mixing-bowls, filled them to the brim with wine and poured 
libations to the immortal gods that have been since time began, 
and above all to the Daughter ofZeus, the Lady of the gleaming 
eyes. And all night long and into the dawn the ship ploughed 
her way through the sea. 



Leavin g the waters of the splendid East, the Sun leapt up into 
the firmament to bring light to the immortals and to men who 
plough the earth and perish. The travellers now came to Pylos, 
the stately citadel of Neleus, where they found the people on the 
sea-beach sacrificing jet-black bulls to Poseidon, Lord of the 
Earthquake, god of the sable locks. There were nine companies 
in session, with five hundred men in each; and every company 
had nine bulls to offer. They hadjust tasted the victims’ entrails 
and were burning the pieces from the thighs in the god’s honour, 
as the trim ship came bearing down upon them. The crew 
brailed up the sail, moored their vessel, and disembarked. Athene 
followed; Telemachus was the last to leave the ship. 

The goddess with the flashing eyes turned to him now and 
said: ‘ Telemachus, you must forget your diffidence: there is no 
occasion for it here at all. Why have you crossed the seas, if not 
to find out where your father’s bones lie buried and how he met 
his end? Go straight up, then, to Nestor, the tamer of horses; 
for we are here to wring his secrets from him. But you yourself 
must approach him if you want the truth from his lips. Not that 
I think you will get anything else from so wise a man as he.’ 

But Telemachus was wary. ‘Mentor,’ he asked, ‘how am I to 
go up to the great man? How shall I greet him? Remember that 
I have had no practice in making speeches; and a young man 
may well hesitate to cross-examine one so much his senior.’ 

‘Telemachus,’ replied Athene, ‘where your native wit fails, 
heaven will inspire you. It is not for nothing that the gods have 
watched your progress ever since your birth.’ 

With this, Pallas Athene led off at a quick pace and Tele¬ 
machus followed in the steps of the goddess till they reached 
the spot where the people of Pylos were assembled in session. 




There sat Nestor with his sons, while their followers around 
them were piercing meat with skewers or roasting it in prepara¬ 
tion for the banquet. But as soon as they caught sight of the 
strangers they all made a move in their direction, waving their 
hands in welcome, and beckoning the newcomers tojoin them. 
Nestor’s son, Peisistratus, who was the first to reach them, took 
them both by the hand and gave them places at the banquet on 
downy fleeces spread over the sandy beach, near his brother 
Thrasymedes and his father. Then he helped them to the vic¬ 
tims’ inner parts, filled a gold cup with wine and proffered it 
with these words to Pallas Athene, Daughter ofZeus who wears 
the aegis: 

‘ This feast that you find us holding is in the Lord Poseidon’s 
honour. Pray to the god, my friend; and when you have made 
your drink-offering and your prayer, as our rites dictate, pass on 
the cup of mellow wine to your companion here, so that he may 
do the same. For he too must be a worshipper of the immortal 
gods, whom no man can neglect. And it is only because he is the 
younger, in fact a man of my own age, that I hand this golden 
beaker to you first.’ And he placed the cup of sweet wine in 
Athene’s hands. 

The goddess was delighted at the tact and nicety which the 
young man had shown in giving her the golden beaker first, and 
at once began an earnest prayer to the Lord Poseidon: 

‘Hear me, Poseidon, Girdler of Earth, and do not begrudge 
us, your suppliants, the fulfilment of our wishes. First of all, 
vouchsafe success to Nestor and his sons. Consider next these 
others, and make a gracious return to all in Pylos for their 
sumptuous offerings. Grant, lasdy, that Telemachus and I may 
successfully accomplish the task that brings us here in our black 
ship and afterwards get safely home.’ 

So the goddess prayed, and as each petitionJbfeitefeis she 
herself made its fulfilment sure. Then she j 
handled beaker to Telemachus, and Odyji 
prayers. The outer flesh from the victinfi^a£ now roasted 1 
drawn off the spits, portions were carv^g>3| all, andthgy^ejl | 




on their splendid feast. When they had satisfied their appetite 
and thirst, Nestor, the old charioteer of Gerenian fame, made 
himself heard: 

‘Now that our visitors have regaled themselves, it will be no 
breach of manners to put some questions to them and inquire 
who they may be/ And turning to his guests, ‘Who are you, 
sirs? From what port have you sailed over the highways of the 
sea? Is yours a trading venture; or are you cruising the main on 
chance, like roving pirates, who risk their lives to ruin other 

Telemachus, inspired by Athene, who was anxious for him 
to catechize the old king about his father’s disappearance, now 
plucked up the courage to make him a spirited reply: 

‘Nestor son ofNeleus, I salute you whom the Achaeans love 
to honour. You ask where we hail from. I will tell you. We are 
from Ithaca, which lies at Neion’s foot, and have come on pri¬ 
vate, not on public, business, as you will understand when I tell 
you that I am searching through the length and breadth of the 
land for any news that I can pick up of my royal father, the gal¬ 
lant Odysseus, who is said years ago to have fought by your side 
at the sack ofTroy. We can account for all the others who took 
part in the war. We know where each man fell, and a sorry tale 
it is. But Zeus has wrapped Odysseus’ fate up to his very death 
in utter mystery; and no one can tell us for certain when he died, 
whether he was the victim of some hostile tribe on land, or 
whether he was lost at sea in Amphitrite’s waves. So I have come 
here to plead with you in the hope that you will tell me the truth 
about my father’s unhappy end, if by any chance you witnessed 
it yourself or heard the story from some wanderer like him. For 
if ever a man was born for misery, it was he. Do not soften your 
account out of pity or concern for my feelings, but faithfully 
describe the scene that met your eyes. I beseech you, if ever my 
good father Odysseus in the hard years of war you had at Troy 
gave you his word to speak or act on your behalf, and made it 
good, remember what he did and tell me all you know/ 

‘Ah, my friend,’ exclaimed Nestor, the Gerenian charioteer, 


‘what memories the name of Troy brings back! The miseries 
we fierce Achaeans put up with there - raid after raid across the 
misty seas in search of plunder at Achilles’ beck and call, fight 
after fight around the very walls of royal Priam’s town! And 
there our best men fell. There warlike Aias lies. There lies 
Achilles. There Patroclus, wise as the gods in counsel. There too 
Antilochus, my own dear son, as good as he was brave, the 
fastest runner of them all, and what a fighter too! Nor is that the 
full count of what the Achaean chivalry endured at Troy. There 
is no man on earth who could unfold to you the whole disastrous 
tale, not though you sat and questioned him for half a dozen 
years, by which time your patience would be gone, and you 
yourself be home. 

‘ For nine long years we toiled to bring them down by every 
stratagem we could devise - even when the final victory came, 
Zeus seemed to grudge it to us. And all the time there was not a 
man that dared to match his wits against the admirable Odys¬ 
seus, who in every kind of strategy proved hi m self supreme. I 
am speaking of your father, if you really are that great man’s 
son. Indeed, I cannot help looking at you in amazement: you 
talk exacdy as he did, and I should have sworn no youngster 
could so resemble him in speech. However, in all those years, 
whether at the general assembly or in the council of the kings, 
not once did Odysseus and I find ourselves speaking on opposite 
sides. We seemed to share a single mind, so well did we agree 
on the policy which in our good sense and ripe judgement we 
laid down for the successful conduct of the Argives’ affairs. 

‘But not all of the Argives showed as much wisdom or 
honesty, and so, when we had brought Priam’s city down in 
ruins and sailed away and had our fleet scattered by heaven’s 
hand, Zeus planned disaster for them on the homeward run. As 
a result, many of them came to grief through the fatal anger of 
the bright-eyed Daughter of that mighty Sire. She began by 
making the two sons of Atreus quarrel. Acting on the spur of 
the moment and with no regard for form, they summoned the 
whole Achaean army to assemble at sunset, so that the troops 

54 ODYSSEY • BOOK III [l39~ 

rolled up sodden with wine; and then they delivered the har¬ 
angues for which they had called them together. Menelaus put 
it to them all that their first concern should be to get to their 
distant homes across the seas. But this was not at all to Agamem¬ 
non’s liking. He was for keeping them there and making cere¬ 
monial offerings to Athene, in the hope of appeasing her terrible 
wrath, not realizing in his folly how implacable she would 
prove; for it is not so easy to divert the immortal gods from 
their purpose. Well, the pair of them stood there bandying hard 
words, till their armed audience, themselves divided in opinion, 
broke up the assembly in indescribable uproar. That night our 
rest was spoilt by vindictive feelings against our comrades-in- 
arms; for Zeus was making ready to strike us the fatal blow. In 
the morning half of us ran our ships down into the tranquil sea, 
and stowed in them our spoils and the captive women with their 
girdles round their hips. Then, though the rest still held aloof 
and stayed where they were with Agamemnon the commander- 
in-chief, our party embarked and set out. 

‘ Our ships went well, for luckily no swell was running and 
the sea was smooth. We soon made Tenedos, and there, all agog 
to be home, we sacrificed to the gods. But Zeus had no intention 
ofletting us get home so soon, and for his own cruel purposes 
he set us all at loggerheads once more. As a result, one squadron 
swung the curved prows of their vessels round and turned back 
in their tracks. It was the followers of Odysseus, that wise and 
subtle king, who thus saw fit to renew their allegiance to 
Agamemnon son of Atreus. But I, well aware of the god’s 
sinister designs, fled on with the massed ships that formed my 
company. Warlike Diomedes did the same, bringing his party 
with him, and late in our wake red-haired Menelaus followed 
too. He caught us up in Lesbos, where we were hesitating 
whether to choose the long passage outside the rugged coast of 
Chios and by way ofPsyria, keeping that island on our left, or 
to sail inside Chios past the windy heights of Mimas. In this 
dilemma we prayed for a sign, and heaven made it clear that 

we should rnf Ct-raierht* orrr\cc r\fwaf» oaa f a TJnU/%Art .4- 


of harm’s way as quickly as possible. A whistling wind blew up, 
and our ships made splendid running down the highways of 
the fish, reaching Geraestus in the night. And many a bull’s 
thigh we laid on Poseidon’s altar after spanning that weary 
stretch of water. 

4 It was on the fourth day that the company ofDiomedes the 
tamer ofhorses brought their fine craft to anchor in Argos. But 
I held on for Pylos, and the breeze never dropped from the 
moment when by god’s will it had begun to blow. Conse¬ 
quently, my dear lad, I got back without any news of the men 
we had left behind, and have no idea who escaped or who was 
lost. But all the news that has come to me as I sit here at home 
you shall have, as is only right, and I’ll keep nothing back. In the 
first place, they tell me that the Myrmidon spearmen reached 
home in safety under the great Achilles’ noble son; and that 
Poeas’ son, the brilliant Phdoctetes, fared equally well. Again, 
Idomeneus brought all his men to Crete, all, that is, who had 
survived the war. The sea got none from him. As for Agamem¬ 
non, I know your home is far from his, yet even you must have 
heard how he had no sooner got back than he fell a wretched 
victim to Aegisthus’ plot. And a grim reckoning there was for 
Aegisthus! Which shows what a good thing it is, when a man 
dies, for a son to survive him, as Orestes survived to pay the 
murderer out and kill that snake in the grass, Aegisthus, who 
had killed his noble father. You, my friend - and what a tall and 
splendid fellow you have grown! - must be as brave as Orestes. 
Then future generations will sing your praises.’ 

The wise young Telemachus replied: ‘King Nestor, whom 
the Achaeans delight to honour, that was revenge indeed! 
Orestes’ fame will travel through Achaean lands and live for 
generations still to come. Ah, if the gods would only give me 
strength like his, to cope with the insufferable insolence of my 
mother’s suitors and settle accounts with those ruffians for their 
blackguardly tricks! But Fate has no such happiness in store for 
me, nor for my father either. I have to grin and bear things as 
they are.’ 

56 ODYSSEY • BOOK Ill [210- 

‘My friend/ said Gerenian Nestor, 4 now that your own re¬ 
marks have put me in mind of it, I admit I have been told that 
a whole crowd of young gallants are courting your mother and 
running riot in your house as uninvited guests. Tell me, do you 
take this lying down, or have the people oflthaca been listening 
to some heaven-fed rumour that has turned their hearts against 
you? Who knows whether some day Odysseus may not come 
back, alone perhaps, or with his following intact, and pay these 
Suitors out for all their violence? I only wish that bright-eyed 
Athene could bring herself to show on your behalf some of the 
loving care she devoted to your illustrious father in the course 
of those hard campaigns of ours at Troy. For never in my life 
have I seen the gods display such open affection as Pallas Athene 
showed in her championship of Odysseus. Ah, if only she would 
love and care for you like that, some of those gentlemen would 
soon have all thoughts of courtship knocked out of their heads 
for ever/ 

‘ Sire/ said the wise Telemachus, T see no hope whatever of 
your forecast proving true. You have conjured up too marvel¬ 
lous a vision: I cannot bear to think of it. And I, for one, dare 
not expect such happiness, even if it proves to be god's will/ 

But Athene rounded on the young man. ‘Telemachus/ she 
exclaimed, ‘what a thing to say! However far a man may have 
strayed, a friendly god could bring him safely home, and that 
with ease. And for myself I would rather live through untold 
hardships to get home in the end and see that happy day, than 
come back and die at my own hearth, as Agamemnon died by 
the treachery ofAegisthus and his wife. But there again, it is our 
common lot to die, and the gods themselves cannot rescue even 
one they love, when Death that stretches all men out lays its 
dread hand upon him/ 

‘ Mentor,' the wise T elemachus replied, ‘let us not discuss these 
painful matters any more. We can no longer count on my 
father's return. The gods who never die have already set his feet 
on the dark path that leads to death. But I should like now to 
bring up another question and put it to Nestor, whose know- 


ledge of men’s ways and thoughts is unrivalled. For they tell me 
he has been king through three generations, and when I look at 
him I seem to gaze on immortality itself.’ Here Telemachus 
turned to his host: ‘ Will your maj esty enlighten me again ? How 
did imperial Agamemnon meet his end? Where was Menelaus, 
and by what cunning snare did that false knave Aegisthus con¬ 
trive to kill a man far braver than himself? Was Menelaus away 
from Achaean Argos and wandering abroad? Is that why the 
coward plucked up the courage to strike?’ 

‘My child,’ Gerenian Nestor answered, ‘I shall be glad to tell 
you the whole tale. You can imagine for yourself what would 
have happened had Agamemnon’s brother, red-haired Mene¬ 
laus, come back from Troy and caught Aegisthus in the house 
alive. No barrow would have honoured his remains! Flung on 
the plain outside the city walls, he’d have made meat for the 
dogs and birds of prey, and there’s no woman in Achaea who 
would have shed a tear for him. His was indeed no petty crime. 
While we that were beleaguering Troy toiled at heroic tasks, 
he spent his leisured days, right in the heart of Argos where the 
horses graze, besieging Agamemnon’s wife with his seductive 
talk. At first Queen Clytaemnestra turned a deaf ear to his dis¬ 
honourable schemes. She was a sensible woman, and besides, 
she had a man with her, a minstrel by profession, to whom 
Agamemnon when he left for Troy had given strict orders to 
watch over his queen. But when the fatal day appointed for her 
conquest came, Aegisthus took this minstrel to a desert isle, left 
him there as carrion for the birds of prey and carried Clytaem¬ 
nestra off to his own house, fond lover, willing dame. This 
doughty deed accomplished, he heaped the holy altars of the 
gods with sacrificial meat and plastered the temple walls with 
splendid gifts of gold brocade, thank-offerings for a success 
beyond his wildest dreams. 

‘Meanwhile wo were sailing in company over the sea from 
Troy, Menelaus and I, the best of friends. But when we were 
abreast of the sacred cape of Sunium, where Attica juts out into 

CAA A 1 af Jrt-r-r Uin /.AMfla a +- 



[ 280 - 

helmsman and struck him dead, with the steering-oar of the 
running ship in his hands. This man Phrontis son of Onetor had 
been the world’s best steersman in a gale, and Menelaus, though 
anxious to proceed, was detained at Sunium till he could bury 
his comrade with the proper rites. But when he too had got 
away over the wine-dark sea in those great ships ofhis and had 
run as far as the steep bluff of Malea, Zeus, who is always on the 
watch, took it into his head to give them a rough time, and sent 
them a howling gale with giant waves as massive and as high as 
mountains. Then and there he split the fleet into two parts, one 
of which he drove towards Crete and the Cydonian settlements 
on the River Iardanus. Now where the lands of Gortyn end, out 
in the misty sea, there is a smooth rock that falls abruptly to the 
water, and the south-westerly gales drive the great rollers against 
a headland to the left, in towards Phaestus, with nothing but this 
puny reef to keep their violence in check. It was here that the one 
party made their landfall. The crews by a hair’s breadth escaped 
destruction; their ships were splintered on the rocks by the fury 
of the seas. Meanwhile Menelaus with the remaining five vessels 
of his blue-prowed fleet was driven on by wind and wave to 
Egypt. And so it came about that he was cruising in those distant 
parts where people talk a foreign tongue, amassing a fortune in 
goods and gold, while Aegisthus schemed this wickedness at 
home. After he had killed Agamemnon, the usurper reigned in 
golden Mycenae and kept the people under his thumb for seven 
years. But the eighth brought him disaster, in the shape of 
Orestes; for that brave youth, returning from Athens, killed 
Aegisthus, his noble father s murderer, and so the slayer was 
slain. When Orestes had done the deed, he invited his friends to 
a funeral banquet for the mother he had loathed and the craven 
Aegisthus; and on the selfsame day he wasjoined by the veteran 
Menelaus bringing in all the treasures that had filled his holds. 

‘Be warned yourself, my friend! Don’t stray too long from 
home, nor leave your wealth unguarded with such a set of 
scoundrels in the place, unless you want them to share it out, to 
eat up all you have and to make a farce of your expedition. I do 


urge you, however, to pay Menelaus a visit. For he has onlyjust 
got back from abroad, and from a region so remote that one 
might well give up all hope of return once the winds had blown 
one astray into that wide expanse of sea, which is so vast and 
perilous that even the birds cannot make their passage in the 
year. So off you go now to Menelaus with your ship and crew; 
or, if you prefer the land route, I have a chariot and horses at 
your disposal and my sons are at your service too, to escort you 
to lovely Lacedaemon where the red-haired Menelaus lives. 
And see that you approach him in person if you want the truth 
from his lips; not that I think you will get anything else from 
so intelligent a man as Menelaus/ 

As Nestor came to an end, the sun went down and darkness 
fell. It was the bright-eyed goddess Athene who spoke next: 

‘We thank you, sire, for a tale well told. But come, sirs, cut 
up the victims’ tongues and mix the wine, so that we can pour 
out offerings to Poseidon and the other immortals before we 
think of sleeping. It is time for bed, now that the light has sunk 
into the western gloom. Nor should one linger at a holy feast, 
but make an early move.’ 

It was the Daughter of Zeus who had spoken; her words did 
not fall on deaf ears. The squires sprinkled their hands with 
water, while the young attendants filled the mixing-bowls to 
the brim with drink, and then, after pouring a few drops first in 
each man’s cup, they served them all with wine. The tongues 
were thrown into the flames; the company rose and sprinkled 
libations on them. And when they had made their offerings and 
drunk their fill, Athene and Prince Telemachus both made a 
move to get back to the shelter of their ship. But Nestor stopped 
them, protesting loudly: 

‘God forbid that you should go to your ship and turn your 
backs on my house as though it belonged to some threadbare 
pauper and there weren’t plenty of blankets and rugs in the 
place for host and guests to sleep between in comfort! Indeed, I 
have good bedding for all; and I swear that the son of my friend 
Odysseus shall not lie down to sleep on his ship’s deck so long as 

60 ODYSSEY • BOOK III [354- 

I am alive or sons survive me here to entertain all visitors that 
come to my door/ 

‘Nobly said, dear father/ replied the goddess of the flashing 
eyes; ‘ and Telemachus may well accept your invitation, for no¬ 
thing could be more agreeable. Let him go off with you now 
and sleep in your palace, while I return to the black ship to re¬ 
assure the men and tell them each their duties. For I am the only 
senior in the party; all the rest are young fellows of much the 
same age as our gallant Telemachus and follow him for love. I 
propose to sleep there by the black ship’s hull tonight, and in 
the morning to set out on a visit to those enterprising people, 
the Cauconians, with whom I have an outstanding claim of 
some importance to settle. But since my friend here has become 
your guest, I suggest that you should send him on in a chariot 
with one of your sons and give him the fastest and strongest 
horses in your stable/ 

As she finished, bright-eyed Athene took the form of a sea- 
eagle and flew off. They were all confounded at the sight. The 
old king marvelled as he took it in, and seizing Telemachus , 
hand saluted him. 

‘ My friend,’ he cried, ‘ no fear that you will ever be a dastard 
or a knave, when, young as you are, you already have your 
guardian gods. For of all that live on Olympus, this was no other 
than the Daughter of Zeus, the august Lady of Triton, who 
singled out your noble father too for honour among the 
Argives. My Queen, be gracious to your servant, and vouchsafe 
good repute to me and to my sons and to my faithful consort. 
In return you shall have a yearling heifer, broad in the brow, 
whom no one yet has broken in and led beneath the yoke. She 
shall be sacrificed to you with gold foil on her horns/ 

His prayer reached the ears of Pallas Athene; and now the 
Gerenian charioteer Nestor led the way towards his stately 
home, followed by his sons and his daughters’ husbands. When 
they came to the royal palace, they took their places on the 
settles and chairs, and the old man prepared a bowl of mellow 

TX71MP Iiip rrtl apfp A J .am 


.the maid undid the cap and broached it. When the old king had 
mixed a bowl of this vintage, he poured a little out, with earnest 
prayers to Athene, Daughter of Zeus who wears the aegis. 

They made their libations and quenched their thirst, after 
which the rest went off to their several quarters for the night. 
But the Gerenian horseman Nestor arranged for King Odysseus’ 
son Telemachus to sleep at the palace itself, on a wooden bed¬ 
stead in the echoing portico, with Peisistratus beside him; for 
that young spearman and captain was the only unmarried son 
left to him in the home. The king himself retired to rest in his 
room at the back of the high building, where the queen his wife 
made bed and bedding ready for him. 

When tender Dawn had brushed the sky with her rose-tinted 
hands, Gerenian Nestor got up from his bed, went out, and 
seated himself on a smooth bench ofwhite marble, which stood, 
gleaming with polish, in front of his lofty doors. Here Neleus 
once had sat and proved himself a rival of the gods in wisdom; 
but he had long since met his doom and gone to Hades’ Halls. 
So now Gerenian Nestor sat there in his turn, sceptre in hand, a 
Warden of the Achaean race. His sons all came from their rooms 
and gathered round him, Echephron and Stratius, Perseus and 
Aretus, and the noble Thrasymedes. The young lord Peisistratus 
came last and made the sixth. Prince Telemachus was ushered to 
a seat at their side; and Nestor the Gerenian charioteer now 
made his wishes known: 

4 Bestir yourselves, my dear sons, and help me to pay my de¬ 
votions to Athene, who of all gods has the first claim upon them, 
since it was she who made herself manifest to me at our sumptu¬ 
ous banquet. Go, one of you, to the meadows for a heifer, and 
get her here without delay, telling the man in charge of the herd 
to drive her up. And one go down to Prince Telemachus’ ship 
and bring all his crew along but two; while another summons 
the goldsmith Laerces to the house to gild the heifer’s horns. 
The rest of you stay with me here, and tell the servants indoors 
to prepare a feast in the palace and to fetch seats, and wood to 
go round the altar, and a supply of fresh water.’ 



They all hurried off to carry out his orders. The heifer was 
brought in from the meadows; Prince Telemachus' crew came 
up from his good ship; and the smith arrived, equipped with the 
tools ofhis trade, the anvil, the hammer, and the sturdy tongs he 
used for working gold. Athene too attended to accept the sacri¬ 
fice. Then Nestor the old charioteer gave out the gold, which 
the smith worked into foil and laid round the heifer's horns by 
way of embellishment to please the goddess' eye. Next Stratius 
and Echephron led the heifer forward by the horns, and Aretus 
came out from the store-room, carrying in his right hand a 
flowered bowl oflustral water for their use, and in the other a 
basket with the barley-corns, while the stalwart Thrasymedes, 
gripping a sharp axe, stood by to cut the victim down, and 
Perseus held the dish to catch its blood. 

The old charioteer Nestor now started the ritual with the 
lustral water and the scattered grain, and offered up his earnest 
prayers to Athene as he began the sacrifice by throwing a lock 
from the victim's head on the fire. 

When they had made their petitions and sprinkled the barley¬ 
corns, Nestor’s son Thrasymedes stepped boldly up and struck. 
The axe cut through the tendons of the heifer’s neck and she 
collapsed. At this, thewomenraised their cry, Nestor's daughters 
and his sons’ wives, and his loyal consort Eurydice, Clymenus’ 
eldest daughter. But the men lifted the heifer's head from the 
trodden earth and held it up while the captain Peisistratus cut its 
throat. When the dark blood had gushed out and life had left the 
heifer’s bones, they swiftly dismembered the carcass, cut slices 
off the thighs in ceremonial fashion, wrapped them in folds of 
fat and laid raw meat above them. These pieces the venerable 
king burnt on the faggots, while he sprinkled red wine over the 
flames, and the young men gathered round with five-pronged 
forks in their hands. When the thighs were burnt up and they 
had tasted the inner parts, they carved the rest into small pieces, 
pierced them with skewers and held the sharp ends of the spits 
to the fire till all was roasted. 

in the meantime, the beautiful Polycaste, King Nestor’s 


youngest daughter, had given Telemachus his bath. When she 
had bathed him and rubbed him with olive oil, she gave him a 
tunic and arranged a fine cloak round his shoulders, so that he 
stepped out of the bath looking like an immortal god. He then 
went and sat down by Nestor, the shepherd of the people. 

When they had roasted the outer flesh and drawn it off the 
skewers, they took their seats at table, with men of gentle birth 
to wait on them and fill their golden cups with wine. After they 
had satisfied their appetite and thirst, the Gerenian charioteer 
Nestor announced his wishes: 

‘ Up with you now, my lads! Fetch Telemachus a pair oflong- 
maned horses and harness them to a chariot so that he can be 
getting on his way/ 

They obeyed him promptly and soon had a pair of fast horses 
harnessed to a car, in which the housekeeper packed bread and 
wine together with dainties of the kind that royal princes eat. 
Telemachus took his place in the handsome chariot and Nestors 
son, the captain Peisistratus, got in beside him, took the reins in 
his hands, and flicked the horses with the whip to start them. The 
willing pair flew off towards the plains, putting the high citadel 
of Pylos behind them, and all day long they swayed the yoke 
up and down on their necks. 

By sundown, when the roads grew dark, they had reached 
Pherae, where they drove up to the house of Diodes, son of 
Ortilochus, whose father was Alpheius. There they put up for 
the night and received the gifts that hospitality dictates. But 
tender Dawn had hardly touched the East with red when they 
were harnessing their horses once again and mounting the gaily- 
coloured chariot. Out past the sounding portico and through 
the gates they drove. A flick of the whip to make the horses go, 
and the pair flew on with a will. In due course they came to the 
wheat plains and attacked the last stage of their journey; such 
excellent going had their thoroughbreds made. And now the 
sun sank once more and darkness swallowed all the tracks. 



And so they came to the rolling lands of Lacedaemon, deep in 
the hills, and drove up to the palace of the illustrious Menelaus. 
They found him entertaining a large company of retainers in 
his house to celebrate the weddings ofhis son and of the princess 
his daughter. He was sending the princess as a bride to the son of 
Achilles, that breaker of the battle-line, for long ago at Troy he 
had consented and had given his promise. So now the gods were 
making these two man and wife, and Menelaus was dispatching 
her with chariot and horses to the capital of the Myrmidons, of 
whom her bridegroom was the king. But he had chosen Alec- 
tor’s daughter, a bride from Sparta itself, for his beloved son, 
the gallant Megapenthes, whom a slave had borne to him, when 
it was clear that he could hope for no other children from Helen 
once she had given him Hermione, that lovely child with golden 
Aphrodite’s beauty. 

They were banqueting then under the high roof of the great 
hall, these neighbours and clansmen of the illustrious Menelaus, 
and sitting in festive mood, while a minstrel in the company 
sang divinely to the lyre, and a couple of acrobats, dancing to 
the time he set with his tune, threw cart-wheels in and out 
among the guests. 

The two travellers, Prince Telemachus and Nestor’s noble 
son, came to a standstill in their chariot at the courtyard gate. 
The lord Eteoneus, who had the arduous post of equerry to the 
great Menelaus, happened to come out and see them there, and 
he set off at once through the palace to inform the king, in whose 
ear he urgently whispered the news: 

‘May it please your majesty, we have some strangers here 
at the gates - a couple of men whom I take by their looks to 

Kp rAtrnl UlrirtJ - -1—^— - * 11 1 


their horses for them or send them on for someone else to 

Red-haired Menelaus answered him indignantly. ‘My lord 
Eteoneus, you have not always been a fool; but at the moment 
you are talking nonsense like a child. Think of all the hospitality 
that you and I enjoyed from strangers before we reached our 
homes and could expect that Zeus might spare us from such 
pressing need again. Unyoke their horses at once, and bring our 
visitors into the house to join us at the feast/ 

Eteoneus ran off through the hall, shouting to his assistants to 
look sharp and follow him. They led the horses sweating from 
the yoke and tied them up at the mangers in the stable, throwing 
down beside them a feed of spelt mixed with white barley. 
Then they tilted the chariot against the burnished wall by the 
gate and ushered the newcomers into the royal buildings. Tele- 
machus and his friend opened their eyes in wonder at all they 
saw as they passed through the king’s palace. It seemed to them 
that this lofty hall of the sublime Menelaus was lit by something 
of the sun’s splendour or the moon’s. When they had feasted 
their eyes on the sight, they went and bathed in polished baths, 
and after the maidservants had washed them, rubbed them with 
oil and dressed them in warm mantles and tunics, they took their 
places on high chairs at the side of Menelaus son of Atreus. A 
maid came with water in a beautiful golden ewer and poured it 
out over a silver basin so that they could rinse their hands. She 
also drew a wooden table to their side, and the staid house¬ 
keeper brought some bread and set it by them with a choice of 
delicacies, helping them liberally to all she had. Meanwhile a 
carver dished up for them on platters slices of various meats he 
had selected from his board, and put gold cups beside them. 

Red-haired Menelaus now turned to the pair with a hospit¬ 
able gesture and said: ‘ Fall to, and welcome. After you’ve dined 
we shall inquire who you may be. Your pedigree has left a 
stamp upon your looks that makes me take you for the sons of 
kings, those sceptred favourites of Zeus, for no mean folk could 
breed such men as you are.’ 




As he spoke, he passed them with his own hands the rich piece 
ofroast sirloin that had been given him as the portion ofhonour, 
and they helped themselves to the good things spread before 
them. When they had satisfied their appetite and thirst, Tele- 
machus leant towards Nestors son and whispered in his ear so 
that the rest might not hear him: 

‘Look round this echoing hall, my dear Peisistratus. The 
whole place gleams with copper and gold, amber and silver and 
ivory. What an amazing collection of treasures! I can’t help 
thinking that the court of Zeus on Olympus must be like this 
inside. The sight of it overwhelms me/ 

Red-haired Menelaus caught what he was saying and quickly 
interposed: ‘No mortal can compete with Zeus, dear lads. His 
house and all his belongings are everlasting. But when it comes 
to men, I feel that few or none can rival me in wealth, consider¬ 
ing all the hardships I endured and the journeys I made in the 
seven years that it took me to amass this fortune and to get it 
home in my ships. My travels took me to Cyprus, to Phoenicia, 
and to Egypt. Ethiopians, Sidonians, Erembi, I visited them all; 
and I saw Libya too, where the lambs are bom with sprouting 
horns and their dams yean three times in the course of the year; 
where nobody from king to shepherd need go without cheese 
or meat, or fresh milk either, since all the year ewes have their 
udders full. 

‘But while I was wandering in those parts, making my for¬ 
tune, an enemy of our house struck down my brother, caught 
off his guard through the treachery of his accursed wife. So it 
gives me little pleasure to call myself the lord of all this wealth, 
since, as you must have heard from your fathers, whoever they 
may be, I have had much sorrow in my life and have already 
seen the ruin ofone lovely dwelling full of precious things. How 
happy I could be, here in my house, with even a third of my 
former estate, if those friends of mine were still alive who died 
long ago on the broad plains of Troy, so far from Argos where 
the horses graze! And yet, though I miss them all and often 
grieve for them as I sit here in our halls till sorrow finds relief in 


tears and the tears cease to fall (so soon does their chill comfort 
cloy), I do not mourn for that whole company, disconsolate as 
I am, so much as I lament one man among them, whose loss 
when I brood over it makes sleep and eating hateful things to 
me. For of all the Achaeans who toiled at Troy it was Odysseus 
who toiled the hardest and undertook the most. Yet all that 
labour was to end in misery for him, and for me in the haunting 
consciousness that I have lost a friend, so long has he been gone 
and left us wondering whether he is dead or not; though I sup¬ 
pose his people are already mourning him for dead, the old man 
Laertes, clever Penelope, and Telemachus, whom he left a new¬ 
born baby in his home/ 

Telemachus* grief for his father was made all the more poig¬ 
nant by Menelaus* lament, and when he heard Odysseus* name 
he let the tears roll down his cheeks to the ground and with both 
hands held up his purple cloak before his eyes. Menelaus ob¬ 
served him and was left in deep embarrassment, not knowing 
whether he should wait for the young man himself to mention 
his father or should cross-examine him forthwith. In the midst 
of his perplexity, Helen with her ladies came down from her 
lofty perfumed room, looking like Artemis with her golden 
distaff. Adreste drew up for her a comfortable chair; Alcippe 
brought a rug of the softest wool; while Phylo carried her silver 
work-basket, a gift from Alcandre, wife ofPolybus, who lived 
in Egyptian Thebes, where the houses are furnished in the most 
sumptuous fashion. This man had given Menelaus two silver 
baths, a pair of three-legged cauldrons, and ten talents in gold; 
while in addition his wife gave Helen beautiful gifts for herself, 
including a golden spindle and a basket that ran on castors and 
was made of silver finished with a rim of gold. This was the 
basket that her lady, Phylo, brought and set beside her. It was 
full of fine-spun yam, and the spindle with its deep blue wool 
was laid across it. Helen sat down on the chair, which had a stool 
below it for her feet, and proceeded at once to find out from her 
husband what was going on: 

‘Menelaus, my lord, have we been told the names of these 


gentlemen who have come to our house? Shall I keep tip a pre¬ 
tence of ignorance, or tell you what I really think? I feel that I 
must speak. For never in man or woman have I seen such a like¬ 
ness before. I am so amazed that I cannot take my eyes oft the 
young man. Surely this must be King Odysseus" son Tele- 
machus, whom his father left as a new-born baby in kishome, 
when you Achaeans boldly declared war and took the field 
against Troy for my sake, shameless creature that I was! 

‘Lady/ replied the red-haired Menelaus, ‘now that you point 
out the resemblance I notice it too. Odysseus’ feet were just the 
same, and so were his hands, the way he moved his eyes about, 
his head and the very hair upon it. Why, only just now when I 
was talking of Odysseus as I remembered him and saying how 
much he had done and suffered for my sake, the tears came 
streaming down his cheeks and he covered his face with his 
purple cloak/ 

Here Nestors son Peisistratus intervened. ‘ Sire/ he said, your 
majesty is right in supposing that my friend here is Odysseus 
son. But he is modest, and on a first visit like this it would go 
against the grain with him to thrust himself forward and hold 
forth before you, whose conversation gives us as much pleasure 
as we should get from listening to a god. So Nestor of Gerenia 
sent me with him for escort, as Telemachus was anxious to see 
you, in case you might help him with advice or suggest some 
line of action. For a son, when his father is gone, has many diffi¬ 
culties to cope with at home, especially if there is no one else to 
help him, as is the case with Telemachus, whose father is abroad 
and who has no other friends in the place to protect him from 

‘Who would have thought it!’ exlaimed the red-haired 
Menelaus. ‘Here in my own house, the son of my best friend, 
the friend who undertook all those heroic tasks for love of me! 
I had meant to favour him above all others of our race when he 
came back, if an all-seeing Providence had allowed the two of 
us to get our good ships safely home across the sea. Yes, I’d have 
emptied one of the towns round here in my own dominions and 


given him a city in Argos to live in. I’d have built him a house 
and transplanted him from Ithaca with all his possessions and his 
sonandhispeople too. We should have lived in the same country 
and continually met. Nor could anything have intervened to 
spoil our joy in one another’s love, till the darkness of death had 
swallowed us up. But a jealous god must have thought other¬ 
wise, and so decreed that that unhappy man should be the only 
one who never reached his home/ 

Menelaus’ words brought them all to the brink of tears. 
Helen of Argos, child of Zeus, broke down and wept. Tele- 
machus and Menelaus did the same. Nor could Nestor’s son 
keep his eyes dry when he thought of his brother, the sterling 
Antilochus, whom the splendid son of the bright Dawn had 
killed. And this was the subject he led up to, as he turned to 
Menelaus now. 

‘ Sire/ he said,‘whenever your name came up at home in the 
course of conversation, Nestor my old father used always to 
speak ofyou as the wisest ofmen. And I beg you to be persuaded 
now by me, if you can possibly contain your grief, since I for 
one take no delight in weeping as I dine - dawn will come soon 
enough for that. Not that I grudge the guerdon of a tear to any 
man who meets his fate and dies. Indeed, what other tribute can 
one pay to poor mortality than a lock of hair from the head 
and a tear on the cheek? I have my own dead too, a brother, not 
by any means the poorest soldier in the Argive camp. You must 
have met Antilochus, though I never knew him myself, nor 
even saw him. They say he was the finest man you had, a superb 
runner and a great fighter too/ 

‘My friend/ replied the red-haired Menelaus, ‘in saying all 
you saidjust now, you spoke and acted with the discretion of a 
man of twice your years. In fact you show the sense I should 
have looked for in the son of such a father. Good breeding can¬ 
not be hidden when a man’s father has himself been fortunate 
in birth and happy in his marriage, like Nestor, lucky from 
first to last through all his life, and now serenely ageing in his 
home, with sons about him who combine good spearmanship 

70 ODYSSEY - BOOK IV [212- 

and brains. Well, let us forget the tearful mood that we had 
fallen into, and turn our thoughts once more to supper, when 
they have poured some water on our hands. In the morning 
Telemachus and I shall have many a long tale to tell one an¬ 

Asphalion, one ofKing Menelaus* busy squires, poured water 
on their hands, and they fell to again on the good fare that was 
spread before them. Helen, meanwhile, the child of Zeus, had 
had a happy thought. Into the bowl in which their wine was 
mixed, she slipped a drug that had the power of robbing grief 
and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories. No 
one that swallowed this dissolved in wine could shed a single 
tear that day, even for the death of his mother and father, or if 
they put his brother or his own son to the sword and he were 
there to see it done. This powerful anodyne was one of many 
useful drugs which had been given to the daughter of Zeus by 
an Egyptian lady, Polydamna, the wife ofThon. For the fertile 
soil of Egypt is most rich in herbs, many of which are whole¬ 
some in solution, though many are poisonous. And in medical 
knowledge the Egyptian leaves the rest of the world behind. He 
is a true son ofPaeeon the Healer. 

When Helen had thrown the drug into the wine and seen that 
their cups were filled, she turned to the company once more and 
said: ‘King Menelaus and my young and noble guests, each of 
us has his happy times, and each his spells of pain - Zeus sees to 
that in his omnipotence. Then why not be content to sit at 
dinner in this hall and see what pleasure we can get by telling 
tales? I shall begin myself with one that is to the point. It is, of 
course, beyond me to describe or even number all the daring 
feats that stand to the credit of the dauntless Odysseus. But here 
is one marvellous exploit which he had the nerve to conceive 
and carry through in Troy when you Achaeans were hard put 
to it at the front. By flogging his own body till it showed all the 
marks of ill-usage he made himselflook like a slave, and with a 
filthy rag across his back he slunk into the enemy city and ex- 

«1a^a/4 Ifs T<- TTrrt An Itt Utt A/jnnhn/. 4*1*1 1A lva/v/>rt 4*^11 <I 400111 <<A 




that Odysseus, who cut so different a figure by the Achaean 
ships, could make his way into the town; but he did so, and the 
Trojans raised no hue and cry. I was the only soul who pierced 
through his disguise, but whenever I questioned him he was 
clever enough to evade me. However, the time came when he 
let me bathe and anoint him, and at last, after I had given him 
some clothes to wear and solemnly sworn that I would not dis¬ 
close his name to the Trojans before he returned to the huts by 
the ships, he gave me full details of the Achaeans’ plans. And 
after killing a number of Trojans with his long sword, he did 
get back to his friends with a harvest of information. The other 
women ofTroy were loud in their lamentations, but I rejoiced, 
for I was already longing to go home again. I had suffered a 
change of heart, repenting the infatuation with which Aphro¬ 
dite blinded me when she lured me to Troy from my own dear 
country and made me forsake my daughter, my bridal chamber, 
and a husband who had all one could wish for in the way of 
brains and good looks/ 

‘My dear/ said the red-haired Menelaus, ‘your tale was well 
and truly told. I have wandered far in this world, I have looked 
into many hearts and heard the counsels of the great, but never 
have I set eyes on a man of such daring as the indomitable 
Odysseus. What he did in the Wooden Horse is another ex¬ 
ample of the man’s pluck and resolution. I remember sitting 
inside it with the pick of the Argive army, waiting to bring 
havoc and slaughter on the Trojans, when you appeared on the 
scene, prompted, I can only suppose, by some god who wished 
to give the victory to Troy, for Prince Deiphobus came with 
you. Three times you made the circuit of our hollow ambuscade, 
feeling the outside with your hands, and you challenged all the 
Argive captains in turn, altering your voice, as you called out 
the name of each, to mimic that man’s wife. Diomedes and I, 
who were sitting right in the middle with the good Odysseus, 
heard you calling and were both tempted to jump up and sally 
forth or give an instant answer from within. But Odysseus held 
us back and checked our impetuous movement. The rest of the 

72 ODYSSEY • BOOK IV [a8j 

warriors made not a sound, though Anticlus still seemed incline 
to give you some reply. But Odysseus clapped his great hanc 
relentlessly on the mans mouth, and saved the whole arm 
thereby, for he held him tight till Pallas Athene had induce 
you to go away/ 

Here Telemachus ventured to address the king: ‘Your ma 
jesty, it only makes things worse to think that such qualitit 
as these could not shield Odysseus from disaster. A heart ofiro: 
would have failed to save him. But now I beg leave for us t 
retire for the night. It is time that we went to bed and enjoyed 
good sleep/ 

Hereupon Helen of Argos instructed her maids to put tw 
bedsteads in the portico and to furnish them with fine purpl 
rugs, spread sheets over these, and add some thick blankets O] 
top for covering. Torch in hand, the maids went out of the hal 
and made the beds, to which an equerry then conducted th 
guests. And so Prince Telemachus and Nestor’s royal son spen 
the night there in the forecourt of the palace, while Menelau 
slept in his room at the back of the high buildings and the lad; 
Helen lay in her long robe by his side. 

Dawn had just touched the East with crimson hands, whei 
the warrior Menelaus put on his clothes and rose from bed. H 
slung a sharp sword from his shoulder, bound a fine pair o 
sandals on his shapely feet and strode from his bedroom lookinj 
like a god. He went straight to Telemachus and, with a word o 
greeting, took a seat beside him. 

And what/ he asked, ‘was the real motive, my lord Tele 
machus, that brought you here over the wide seas to our pleasan 
land of Lacedaemon ? Was it public business or private affairs 
Tell me the truth/ 

King Menelaus/ the wise Telemachus replied, ‘ I came to fim 
out whether you could give me any news of my father. I an 
eaten out of house and home, my rich estate has gone to ruin 
and my place is packed with a set of scoundrels who spend thei: 
days in the wholesale slaughter of my sheep and fatted cattle 
and in competing for my mother’s hand with an utter disregan 


for decency. I am here to plead with you in the hope that you 
will tell me the truth about my father’s unhappy end, if by any 
chance you witnessed it yourself or heard the story from some 
other wanderer like him. For if ever a man was bom for misery, 
it was he. Do not soften your account out of pity or concern for 
my feelings, but faithfully describe the scene that met your eyes. 
I beseech you, if ever my good father Odysseus, in the hard years 
of war you had at Troy, gave you his word to speak or act on 
your behalf and made it good, remember what he did, and tell 
me all you know.’ 

Red-haired Menelaus was hot with indignation. ‘ For shame! ’ 
he cried. ‘ So the cowards want to creep into the brave man’s 
bed? It’s just as if a deer had put her little unweaned fawns to 
sleep in a mighty lion’s den and gone to range the high ridges 
and the grassy dales for pasture. Back comes the lion to his lair, 
and hideous carnage falls upon them all. But no worse than 
Odysseus will deal out to that gang. Once, in the pleasant isle of 
Lesbos I saw him stand up to Philomeleides in a wrestling-match 
and bring him down with a terrific throw which delighted all 
his friends. By Father Zeus, Athene, and Apollo, that’s the 
Odysseus I should like to see these Suitors meet. A swift death 
and a sorry wedding there would be for all! 

‘But to come to your appeal and the questions you asked me 
-1 have no wish to deceive you or to put you off with evasive 
answers. On the contrary, I shall pass on to you without conceal¬ 
ment or reserve every word that I heard myself from the infall¬ 
ible lips of the Old Man of the Sea. 

‘It happened in Egypt. I had been anxious for some time to 
get home, but the gods kept me dawdling there, for I had 
omitted to make them the correct offerings, and they never 
allow one to forget their rules. There is an island called Pharos in 
the rolling seas off the mouth of the Nile, a day’s sail out for a 
well-found vessel with a roaring wind astern. In this island is 
a sheltered cove where sailors come to draw their water from a 
well and can launch their boats on an even keel into the deep 
sea. It was here that the gods kept me idle for twenty days; and 

74 ODYSSEY • BOOK IV [3&- 

all that time there was never a sign on the water of the steady 
breeze that ships require for a cruise across the open sea. All our 
supplies would have disappeared and the mens strength been 
exhausted, if one of the gods had not taken pity on me. It was 
Eidothee, the daughter of the mighty Proteus, the Old Man of 
the Sea, who came to my rescue. I must have made some special 
appeal to her compassion when she met me walking by myself, 
away from my men, whom the pangs ofhunger scattered every 
day round the coast to angle with barbed hooks for fish. For she 
came right up and accosted me. “ Sir,” she asked, “ are you an 
utter fool? Are you weak in the head? Or is it because you like 
hardships and prefer to let things slide that you allow yourself to 
be cooped up all this time in the island and can find no means of 
escape though your men are growing weaker day by day ? To 
which I replied, “Ido not know what goddess you may be, but 
let me assure you that I have no wish to linger here. I can only 
think that I must have offended the immortals who live in the 
wide heavens. You gods know everything; so tell me which of 
you it is that has confined me here and cut my voyage short; and 
tell me also how I can get home across the playgrounds of the 

‘The friendly goddess answered me at once: “Sir, I will tell 
you all you need to know. This island is the haunt of that im¬ 
mortal seer, Proteus of Egypt, the Old Man of the Sea, who 
owes allegiance to Poseidon and knows the sea in all its depths. 
He is my father too, so people say. If you could contrive some¬ 
how to set a trap and catch him, he would tell you about your 
journey and the distances to be covered, and direct you home 
along the highways of the fish. Not only that, but since you are 
a king he will tell you, if you want to know, all that has hap¬ 
pened in your palace, good or bad, while you have been away 
on your long and arduous travels.” “It is surely for you,” I an¬ 
swered her, “to think of a way by which we can catch this mys¬ 
terious old being. I am afraid that he might see me first, or know 
I am there and keep away. It is none too easy for a man to get 
the better of a god.” 


‘Once more the kindly goddess undertook to enlighten me. 
“It is round about high noon,” she said, “that the old seer 
emerges from his native salt, letting a cat’s-paw from the West 
darken the surface to conceal his coming. Once out, he makes 
for his sleeping place in the shelter of a cave, and those children 
of the brine, the flippered seals, heave themselves up from the 
grey surf and go to sleep in herds around him, exhaling the pun¬ 
gent smell of the salt sea depths. Pick three men from your crew 
with care, the best you have on board, and at daybreak I will 
lead you to the spot and find you each a place to lie in. But I must 
tell you how the old sorcerer proceeds. First he will go his round 
and count the seals; then, when he has counted them and seen 
that all are there, he will lie down among them like a shepherd 
with his flocks of sheep. That is your moment. Directly you see 
him settled, summon all your strength and courage and hold 
him down however hard he strains and struggles to escape. He 
will try all kinds of transformations, and change himself not 
only into every sort of beast on earth, but into water too and 
blazing fire. But hold him fast and grip him all the tighter. And 
when he speaks at last and asks you questions in his natural shape, 
just as he was when you saw him lie down to rest, then, sir, you 
may relax your pressure, let the old man go, and ask him which 
god is your enemy and how to get home along the highways of 
the fish.” After giving me this advice she disappeared into the 
rollers, and I took myself off to the spot where my ships were 
resting on the sand, with many dark forebodings as I walked 
along. When I had reached the sea and found my ship, we pre¬ 
pared our supper. The solemn night descended on us and we lay 
down to sleep on the surf-beaten strand. 

* When the new Dawn had flecked the East with red, I set out, 
with many prayers to heaven, along the shore of the far-flung 
sea, accompanied by the three men from my crews whom I felt 
I could rely on most in any emergency. 

‘Eidothee had vanished under the wide waters of the sea, but 
she now reappeared, carrying in her arms the skins of four seals, 
all freshly flayed to decoy her father. She scooped out lairs for us 

j6 ODYSSEY * BOOK IV [ 438 - 

in the sandy beach and sat down to await our arrival. When we 
came up to her, she ensconced us in our places and covered each 
man with a skin, thus committing us to what might have been a 
very painful ambuscade; for the vile smell of the sea-fed brutes 
was peculiarly trying, and I should like to know who would 
choose a monster of the deep for bed-fellow. However, the god¬ 
dess herself thought of a sovran remedy and came to our rescue 
with some ambrosia, which she applied to each man’s nostrils. It 
was sweet-smelling stuff and killed the stench of the seals. So 
there we waited patiently right through the morning. And thick 
and fast the seals came up from the sea and lay down in com¬ 
panies along the beach to sleep. At midday the old man him¬ 
self emerged, found his fat seals already there, and went the 
rounds to make his count. Entirely unsuspicious of the fraud, 
he included us as the first four in his flock. When he had done, 
he too lay down to sleep. Then, with a shout, we leapt upon 
him and flung our arms round his back. But the old man’s 
skill and cunning had not deserted him. He began by turning 
into a bearded lion and then into a snake, and after that a pan¬ 
ther and a giant boar. He changed into running water too and 
a great tree in leaf. But we set our teeth and held him like a 

When at last he had grown tired of his magic repertory, he 
broke intospeech and began asking me questions. 44 Tell me now, 
Menelaus, he said, ‘which of the gods conspired with you to 
waylay and capture me? And what have you done it for?” 4 4 Old 
man, I answered, this is mere prevarication. You know as 
well as I do how long I have been a prisoner on this island, un¬ 
able to escape and growing weaker every day. So tell me now, 
in your divine omniscience, which god it is that has laid me by 
the heels and cut my voyage short; and tell me also how I can 
get home across the playgrounds of the fish.” 44 You blundered,” 
said the old man in reply. “Before embarking, you should have 
offered rich sacrifice to Zeus and all the other gods, if you 
wished to get home fast across the wine-dark sea. You have no 
chance whatever of reaching your own country and seeing your 


friends and your fine house again before you have sailed the 
heaven-fed waters of the Nile once more and made ceremonial 
offerings to the everlasting gods who live in the broad sky. 
When that is done, the gods will let you start this voyage that 
you are so keen to make.” 

4 Now when I heard him tell me once again to make the long 
and weary trip over the misty seas to Egypt, I was heart-broken. 
Nevertheless I found my voice and made him this reply: “ Old 
man, I shall do exactly what you advise. But there is something 
else I wish you to tell me. Did all of my countrymen whom 
Nestor and I left behind when we sailed from Troy reach home 
in safety with their ships, or were there any that came to grief in 
some accident at sea, or died in their friends’ arms though the 
fighting was over? ” “ Son of Atreus,” he replied, “why do you 
search me with these questions when nothing compels you to 
find out and probe into my mind? I warn you that your tears 
will flow soon enough when you have listened to my tale. For 
many were killed, though many too were spared. Yet only two 
of the commanders of your armies lost their lives when home¬ 
ward bound -1 need not speak of the fighting, since you took 
part yourself - but there is a third who, though still alive, is a 
prisoner somewhere in the vastness of the seas. Aias, to take him 
first, was wrecked in his long-oared galleys by Poseidon, who 
drove him onto the great cliff of Gyrae and then rescued him 
from the surf. In fact, he would have evaded his doom, in spite 
of Athene’s enmity, if in his blind folly he had not talked so big, 
boasting that he had escaped from the hungry jaws of the sea in 
defiance of the gods. His loud-voiced blasphemy came to the 
ears ofPoseidon, who seized his trident in his powerful hands, 
struck the Gyraean rock and split it into two. One half stood 
firm, but the fragment he had severed, where Aias had been 
resting when the mad impulse took him, crashed into the sea 
and carried him with it into the vast and rolling depths, where 
he gulped the salt water down and perished. But your brother 
contrived somehow to circumvent his fate, and slipped away in 
his great ships with the Lady Here’s help. Yet when he was 



nearly up with the heights of Cape Malea, a hurricane caught 
him, and groaning in protest he found himself driven over the 
fish-infested seas towards the borderland where Thyestes in the 
old days and now his son Aegisthus had their home. But in due 
course he saw the chance of a safe return even from there. The 
wind, veering round as luck would have it, dropped to a breeze, 
and home they came. 

4 “Agamemnon set foot on the soil ofhis fathers with a happy 
heart, and as he touched it kissed his native earth. The warm 
tears rolled down his cheeks, he was so glad to see his land again. 
But his arrival was observed by a spy in a watch-tower, whom 
Aegisthus had had the cunning to post there with the promise of 
two talents of gold for his services. This man was on the lookout 
for a year in case the Kong should land unannounced, slip by, 
and himself launch an attack. He went straight to the palace and 
informed the usurper. Then Aegisthus set his brains to work and 
laid a clever trap. He selected twenty of the best soldiers from 
the town, left them in ambush, and after ordering a banquet to 
be prepared in another part of the building, set out in a horse- 
chariot to bring home the King, with his heart full of ugly 
thoughts. Agamemnon, never guessing that he was going to 
his doom, came up with him from the coast, and Aegisthus 
feasted and killed him as a man might fell an ox at its manger. 
Not a single one of the King's following was left, nor of 
Aegisthus' company either. They were killed in the palace to 
a man.” 

‘This was his story, and it broke my heart. I sat down on the 
sands and wept. I had no further use for life, no wish to see the 
sunshine any more. But when I had had enough of tears and of 
writhing on the sands, the old Sea Prophet spoke to me again. 
“Menelaus,” he said, “you have wept too long. Enough of this 
incontinent grief, which serves no useful end. Better bestir your¬ 
self to get back to your own land as quickly as you can. For 
either you will find Aegisthus still alive or Orestes will have 
forestalled you by killing him, and you may join them at 
the funeral feast.” His words restored my manhood and in 


spite of my distress I felt once more a glow of comfort in my 

4 There was one further point which I now insisted on his 
clearing up. “You have accounted for two,” I said. “But who is 
the third, the one that is still alive but a prisoner somewhere in 
the vastness of the seas? Or is he dead by now? I wish to hear, 
whatever sorrow it may cause me.” “The third,” said Proteus, 
44 is Odysseus, whose home is in Ithaca. I caught a glimpse ofhim 
on an island, in the Nymph Calypso’s home, with the big tears 
rolling down his cheeks. She keeps him captive there, for with¬ 
out a galley and crew to carry him so far across the sea it is im¬ 
possible for him to reach his home. And now, King Menelaus, 
hear your own destiny. You will not meet your fate and die in 
Argos where the horses graze. Instead, the immortals will send 
you to the Elysian plain at the world’s end, to join red-haired 
Rhadamanthus in the land where living is made easiest for man¬ 
kind, where no snow falls, no strong winds blow and there is 
never any rain, but day after day the West Wind’s tuneful 
breeze comes in from Ocean to refresh its folk. That is how the 
jods will deal with Helen’s husband and recognize in you the 
;on-in~law of Zeus.” 

4 The old man finished, and sank into the heaving waters of 
:he sea, while I went off towards the ships with my heroic com- 
•ades, lost in the black night of my own thoughts as I walked 
long. Back at my ship beside the water’s edge, we set to on our 
veiling meal. Night in her mystery descended on us, and we 
ay down to sleep on the surf-beaten shore. 

4 In the first rosy light of Dawn, we got to work and ran our 
eet down into the good salt water. We put the masts and sails 
n board, and trimmed the ships. The crews then climbed in, 
)und their places on the benches, and struck the grey surf 
dth their oars. And so I returned to the heaven-fed waters of 
le Nile, where I moored, made the proper ritual offerings, 
id after appeasing the deathless gods built a mound of earth 
> the everlasting memory of Agamemnon. When all this 
as done I set out for home, and the immortals sent me a 



[ 586 - 

favourable wind and brought me quickly back to my own be¬ 
loved land. 

‘And now, my friend, I invite you to stay on in my palace. 
Stay for twelve days or so, and then I’ll send you offin style. You 
shall have glorious gifts from me - three horses and a splendid 
chariot. Into the bargain, I’ll give you a lovely cup, to remind 
you of me all your life when you make drink-offerings to the 
immortal gods/ 

‘My lord/ Telemachus replied with his usual wisdom, ‘ please 
do not insist on my paying you a lengthy visit. It is true that your 
tales and conversation so delight me that I could easily stop with 
you for a year and never feel homesick for Ithaca or my people. 
But I am afraid my friends must already be tired of waiting for 
me in sacred Pylos; and now you are asking me to prolong my 
stay. As for the gift you offer me, please make it a keepsake I can 
carry. Horses I will not take to Ithaca. I’d rather leave them here 
to grace your own stables. For your kingdom is a broad plain, 
where clover grows in plenty and galingale is found, with wheat 
and rye and the broad-eared white barley; whereas in Ithaca 
there is no room for horses to run about in, nor any meadows at 
all. It is a pasture-land for goats and more attractive than the sort 
ofland where horses thrive. None of the islands that slope down 
to the sea are rich in meadows and the kind of place where you 
can drive a horse. Ithaca least of all/ 

These remarks made the warrior Menelaus smile. He patted 
Telemachus with his hand and replied in the friendliest tone: 

I like the way you talk, dear lad: one can see that you have the 

rightbloodinyourveins.Verywell,my liberality shall take an¬ 
other form: it is easily done. You shall have the loveliest and 
most precious of the treasures that my palace holds. Til give you 
a mixing-bowl of wrought metal. It is solid silver with a rim of 
gold round the top, and was made by Hephaestus himself. I had 
it from my royal friend the King of Sidon, when I put up under 

his roof on my journey home. That is the present I should like 
you to take. 

During this talk of theirs, the guests began to arrive at the 


- 654 1 


great king’s palace. They drove up their own sheep and brought 
the wine that was to make them merry, while their bread was 
sent in for them by their buxom wives. This was how they pre¬ 
pared for their banquet in Menelaus’ hall. 

Meanwhile, in front of Odysseus’ palace, the Suitors in their 
usual free and easy way were amusing themselves with quoits 
and javelin-throwing on the levelled ground where we have 
seen them at their sports before. Antinous and Prince Eury- 
machus, the boldest spirits in the gang and its acknowledged 
leaders, were sitting by, when Phronius’ son Noemon came up 
to them with a question for Antinous. 

‘Have we any idea,’ he asked him, ‘when Telemachus comes 
back from sandy Pylos, or don’t we know? He has gone off with 
my ship; and I happen to need it, to cross over to Elis, where the 
ields are big and I keep a dozen mares. They have some un- 
veaned mules not broken in yet to the work they’ll have to do. 

! want to drive one off and train him.’ 

His news filled them with secret consternation, for they had 
10 notion that Telemachus had gone to Pylos, but thought he 
vas somewhere in the neighbourhood on the farm, among the 
locks perhaps, or with the swineherd. So now it was Antinous’ 
urn to question Noemon. 

‘I want the truth,’he said. ‘ When did heleave and whatyoung 
allows went with him? Did he pick men from the town or did 
e make up a crew from his own serfs and servants, as he easily 
light? And here’s another point I must clear up; so answer me 
irefully. Did he use force and go off with your ship against 
our wishes? Or did you let him pitch you some yam and take 

‘I gave her to him,’ said Noemon, ‘of my own accord. What 
ould anyone do when asked a favour by a man ofhis standing 
ith so much trouble on his mind? It would be very hard to 
fuse him. As for the young fellows who went with him, 
ey’re the best men in the place, next to ourselves. For captain, 
ey had Mentor. I saw him embark - him or some god. 

82 ODYSSEY * BOOK IV [ 6 55~ 

Anyhow it was exactly like him. And that’s what puzzles me. I 
saw the good Mentor here, only yesterday at dawn. Yet he cer¬ 
tainly boarded my ship for Pylos that night. 

With this, Noemon went off to his father’s house, leaving the 
two lords fuming with indignation. They made the rest sit 
round and stop their games, while Antinous, with his usual elo¬ 
quence, held forth and gave vent to his fury. The man s heart 
was seething with black passion, and his eyes were like points of 

‘Damnation take it! ’ he cried out. ‘Here’s a fine stroke Tele- 
machus has had the impudence to bring off — this expedition 
that we swore should come to nothing. With all of us against 
him, the young puppy calmly sets out, after picking the best 
men in the place and getting them to launch him a ship! That 
lad is going to give us trouble by and by, unless the gods are kind 
to us and clip his wings before he gets much older. However, 
give me a fast ship and a crew of twenty, and I’ll lie up for him 
in the straits between Ithaca and the bluffs of Samos, and catch 
him on his way. And a grim ending there’ll be to this sea-trip of 
his in search of his father!’ 

The others welcomed the idea and abetted him. When all was 
settled, the meeting rose and they adjourned into the palace. 

But it was not long before Penelope got wind of the plot that 
her lovers were hatching. It was Medon, the herald, who let her 
know. For while they were putting their heads together in the 
courtyard, he had been eavesdropping outside and heard all they 
said. He set straight off through the palace to tell Penelope, who 
accosted him as he crossed the threshold of her room. 

‘Herald,’ she said, ‘what errand have the young lords given 
you? Is it to tell King Odysseus’ maids to drop their work and 
prepare them a feast? Oh how I hate their love-making and the 
way they swarm around! They’d never feast again in here, if I 
could stop them. Yes, the whole gang of you that come here day 
by day, plundering our larder and my thrifty son’s estate. I sup¬ 
pose you never listened years ago when you were children and 
your fathers told you how Odysseus treated them - never a harsh 


word, never an injustice to a single person in the place. How 
different from the usual run ofkings, who favour one man, only 
to oppress the next. Whereas Odysseus never wronged a soul. 
Which only serves to show up you and your infamy, and proves 
how easily past kindness is forgotten/ 

1 My Queen/ replied Medon, who was by no means a villain, 
‘I only wish that this were the worst of your troubles. Your 
suitors are planning a far greater and more heinous crime. God 
grant that they may not succeed! They are all set now on assassi¬ 
nating Telemachus as he comes home from this expedition of 
his. For I must tell you he has gone to Pylos and Lacedaemon to 
seek news of his father/ 

When Penelope heard this her knees shook underneath her 
and her heart grew faint. For a long time she found it impossible 
to speak; her eyes filled with tears; the words stuck in her throat. 
At length she recovered and could make him some reply. 

‘But tell me, herald, why has my boy gone?’ she asked. 
‘There was no call whatever for him to venture on these scud¬ 
ding ships that sailors use like chariots, to drive across the sea’s 
immensities. Does he wish his very name to be forgotten in the 

The astute Medon replied: ‘I do not know whether some god 
>r his own feelings suggested this journey to Pylos, but his pur¬ 
pose was to find out about his father’s return, or failing that to 
earn what end he met/ 

Medon went off through the palace. But Penelope was over¬ 
whelmed by the anguish that racked her. She had not even the 
leart to seat herself on one of the many chairs in her apartments, 
)ut sank down on the threshold of her lovely room, weeping 
utterly, while all the maids of her household young and old 
tood round her whimpering. 

‘Listen, my friends,’ she said between her sobs. ‘Is there a 
woman of my time whom Zeus has treated worse than me? I 
tad a husband years ago, the best and bravest of our race, a lion- 
tearted man, famous from Hellas to the heart of Argos. That 
nsband I have lost. And now my dear son vanishes from home 


8 4 


without a word. I was not even told that he had gone; not even 
by you, who must have known it well enough. How cruel of 
you all not to have thought of rousing me from bed when he 
went to his big black ship! For had I known that he had this 
journey in mind, I swear he should have stayed, however keen 
to go, or left me dead at home. 

‘But make haste, one of you, and call my old servant Dolius, 
whom my father gave me when I came here and who keeps my 
orchard now. He shall go straight to Laertes, sit down beside 
him, and tell him the whole story. Perhaps Laertes may hit upon 
some scheme and come out of his retreat to plead with the 
people, who seem intent on wiping out his and Odysseus 9 royal 

‘Dear lady/ said Eurycleia, the fond old nurse, ‘whether you 
kill me with the cruel knife or let me live in peace, I cannot hold 
my tongue. I knew the whole thing: it was I who gave him 
bread and wine and all he asked for. But he made me solemnly 
promise not to tell you for a dozen days or till you missed him 
yourself and found that he had started. He didn’t want the tears 
to spoil your lovely cheeks. 

‘Come, wash yourself now and put some fresh clothes on. 
Then go to your room upstairs with your ladies-in-waiting and 
pray to Athene, Daughter ofZeus. She may still save him, even 
from the jaws of death. And don’t pester an old man who has 
worries enough already. I cannot believe that the happy gods 
detest Laertes’ line. I’m sure there will always be one of them 
left to own these lofty halls and the fat fields beyond.’ 

In this way Eurycleia hushed her sobs and cleared her eyes of 
tears. So Penelope, when she had washed herself and changed 
her clothes, went to her room upstairs with the ladies-in-wait- 
ing, filled a basket with sacrificial grains, and prayed to Athene: 

‘Hear me, unsleeping Daughter ofZeus who wears the aegis! 
If ever Odysseus in his wisdom burnt the fat thighs of a heifer or 
sheep to honour you in his halls, remember his offerings now, 
save my dear son for me, and guard him from outrage at the 
hands of these ruffians/ 


At the end of her prayer she uttered a great cry. The goddess 
heard her petition, while in the shadowy hall the Suitors broke 
into uproar. 

T do believe/ one of the young roughs called out, ‘that our 
much-courted Queen is going to give us a wedding. Little she 
knows that her son’s death has been arranged/ 

This was their boastful way, though it was they who little 
guessed how matters really stood. Antinous, however, rose up 
and silenced them. 

‘You fools! 5 he cried. ‘None of this bragging, or somebody 
may go indoors and blab. Keep your mouths shut now and dis¬ 
perse. You know the plan we all agreed on. Let’s carry it out/ 

Without further ado he picked the twenty best men and they 
left for their ship and the sea-shore, where they began by run¬ 
ning the black vessel down into deep water, then put the mast 
and sail on board, fixed the oars in their leather slings, all ship¬ 
shape, and spread the white sail out. Meanwhile their eager 
squires had brought down their armour. They moored the boat 
well out in the water and came on shore, where they had their 
supper and waited for evening to fall. 

But prudent Penelope lay there in her upper room, fasting, 
without taste ofsup or crumb, and wondering whether her inno¬ 
cent son would escape death or fall a victim to her arrogant 
lovers. Doubts and fears chased through her mind as they do 
through a lion’s when he finds himself surrounded by the beaters 
and stands in terror as they stealthily close in. But at last a genial 
sense of drowsiness overcame her; she let herself sink back, she 
fell asleep, and all her limbs relaxed. 

Once more, Athene of the flashing eyes seized the occasion to 
assist. There was another daughter of King Icarius, called Iph- 
thime, who had married Eumelus and lived in Pherae. The god¬ 
dess made a phantom now, exactly like this woman, and sent it 
to Odysseus’ palace to save the woebegone and weeping queen 
from more distress and further floods of tears. It crept into her 
bedroom by the strap that worked the bolt, halted at the head of 
the bedstead and spoke to her: 




4 Are you asleep, Penelope, worn out with grief? I do assure 
you that the gods, who live such easy lives themselves, do not 
mean you to be so distressed, for it is settled that your son shall 
come home safe. They have no quarrel with the lad whatever. 

‘Sister, what brings you here?’ Penelope replied out of her 
sweet sleep at the Gate of Dreams. ‘We are not used to seeing 
you with us, living as you do so far away. And so you think I 
should forget my sorrows and all these anxieties that give my 
mind and heart no rest from pain? As though I had not married 
and then lost the best and bravest of our race, my noble lion- 
hearted husband, famous from Hellas to the heart of Argos! 
And now my beloved son, for whom I grieve even more than 
for his father, has sailed away in a great ship - a child like him, 
untrained for action or debate. I tremble for him when I think 
what they may do to him where he has gone or what may 
happen to him on the sea. He has so many enemies plotting 
against him and thirsting to have his blood before he reaches 

‘ Be brave and conquer these wild fears/ said the dim figure in 
reply. ‘He has gone with such escort as any man might pray to 
have beside him - Pallas Athene in all her power. And it is she 
who in pity for your griefhas sent me here to bring this message 
to you/ 

But the shrewd Penelope had not finished yet. ‘If you are 
really divine/ she said, ‘and have heard the voice of god, I beg 
you to tell me about his unhappy father too. Is he alive some¬ 
where and can he see the sunshine still; or is he dead by now and 
down in Hades’ Halls?’ 

‘Of Odysseus, alive or dead/ said the shadowy phantom, T 
can give you no account. And it does no good to babble empty 

With that, it slipped past the bolt by the jamb of the door and 
was lost in the wind outside. But Icarius’ daughter, waking with 
a start, drew a warm sense of comfort from the vividness of this 
dream that had flown to her through the early night. 

Meanwhile her suitors had embarked and were sailing the 


high seas with murder for Telemachus in their hearts. Out in the 
open strait, midway between Ithaca and the rugged coast of 
Samos, lies the rocky isle of Asteris, which, small as it is, can offer 
ships a harbour with two mouths. It was here that the Achaean 
lords set their ambush for Telemachus. 



When Dawn had risen from the bed where she sleeps with the 
Lord Tithonus, to brmg daylight to the immortals and to men, 
the gods sat down m assembly, and werejomed by Zeus the 
Thunderer, the greatest of them all The imprisonment of Odys¬ 
seus m Calypso’s home was heavy on Athene’s heart, and she 
now recalled the tale of his misfortunes to their minds. 

‘Father Zeus,’ she said, ‘and you other happy gods who live 
for ever, I have come to the conclusion that kindness, gener¬ 
osity, and justice should no longer be the aims of any man who 
wields a royal sceptre - in fact that he might just as well devote 
his days to tyranny and lawless deeds Look at Odysseus, that 
admirable kmg ! Today, not one of the people he once ruled 
like a loving father gives him a single thought No, he is left to 
languish on an island in misery He is m the Nymph Calypso’s 
clutches, and she sees that he stays there Not that he could reach 
Ithaca in any case, for he has neither galley nor crew to carry 
him so far across the sea Meanwhile, his beloved son has gone to 
sacred Pylos and blessed Lacedaemon for news ofhis father, and 
they mean to murder him on his way back * 

‘My child,’ replied the Gatherer of the Clouds, T never 
thought to hear such words from you Did you not plan the 
whole affair yourself? Was it not your idea that Odysseus should 
return and settle accounts with these men? As for Telemachus, 
you are well able to look after him use your own skill to bring 
him back to Ithaca safe and sound, and let the Suitors sail home 
agam in their ship with nothing accomplished ’ 

Zeus now turned to Hermes, his son ‘Hermes,’ he said, ‘in 
your capacity as our Envoy, convey our final decision to that 
dainty Nymph Odysseus has borne enough and must now set 
out for home. On the journey he shall have neither gods nor 




men to help him He shall make it in hardship, in a boat put to¬ 
gether by his own hands, and on the twentieth day he should 
reach Scheme, the rich country of the Phaeacians, our kmsmen, 
who will take him to their hearts and treat him like a god They 
will convey him by ship to his own land, giving him copper, 
gold, and woven materials m such quantities as he could never 
have won for himself from Troy, even if he had come away 
unhurt with his share of the spoil This is how it is ordamed that 
he shall reach his native land and there step under the high roof 
of his house and see his friends once more ’ 

Zeus had spoken His Messenger, the Giant-killer, obeyed at 
once and bound under his feet the lovely sandals of untamish- 
able gold that carried him with the speed of the wind over the 
water or the boundless earth, and he picked up the wand which 
he can use at will to cast a spell upon our eyes or wake us from 
the soundest sleep With this wand in his hand, the mighty 
Giant-slayer made his flight From the upper air he dropped to 
the Pierian range, and from there swooped down on the sea, and 
skimmed the waves like a sea-mew drenching the feathers of its 
wings with spray as it pursues the fish down desolate gulfs of the 
unharvested deep So Hermes rode the unending waves, till at 
length he reached the remote island of Ogygia, where he 
stepped onto the shore from the blue waters of the sea and 
walked along till he reached the great cavern where the Nymph 
was living He found the lady of the lovely locks at home A big 
fire was blazmg on the hearth and the scent from burning logs 
ofsplitjumper and cedar was wafted far across the island Inside, 
Calypso was singing in a beautiful voice as she wove at the loom 
and moved her golden shuttle to and fro The cave was sheltered 
by a verdant copse of alders, aspens, and fragrant cypresses, 
which was the roosting-place of feathered creatures, homed 
owls and falcons and garrulous choughs, birds of the coast, 
whose daily busmess takes them down to the sea Trailing round 
the very mouth of the cavern, a garden vine ran riot, with great 
bunches ofnpe grapes, while from four separate but neighbour¬ 
ing springs four crystal rivulets were trained to run this way and 

90 ODYSSEY • BOOK V b 2 *" 

that; and in soft meadows on either side the iris and the parsley 
flourished. It was indeed a spot where even an immortal visitor 
must pause to gaze in wonder and delight. 

The Messenger stood still and eyed the scene. When he had 
enjoyed all its beauty, he passed into the great cavern. Calypso, 
a goddess herself, knew him the moment she raised her eyes to 
his face, for none of the immortal gods is a stranger to his 
fellows, even though his home may be remote from theirs. As 
for King Odysseus, Hermes did not find him in the cave, for he 
was sitting disconsolate on the shore in his accustomed place, 
tormenting himself with tears and sighs and heartache, and 
looking out across the barren sea with streaming eyes. 

The divine Calypso invited Hermes to sit down on a brightly 
polished chair, and questioned her visitor. ‘Hermes/ she asked, 
‘what brings you here with your golden wand? You are an 
honoured and a welcome guest, though in the past your visits 
have been few. Tell me what is in your mind, and I shall gladly 
do what you ask ofme, if I can and if it is not impossible. But first 
follow me inside and let me offer you hospitality/ 

The goddess now put some ambrosia on a table, drew it be¬ 
side him, and mixed him a cup ofred nectar. When he had dined 
and refreshed himself, he answered Calypso’s questions: 

‘As one immortal to another, you ask me what has brought 
me here. Very well, since you command me, I shall tell you 
frankly. It was Zeus who sent me. Otherwise I should not have 
come. For who would choose to scud across that vast expanse of 
salt sea water? It seemed unending. And not a city on the way, 
not a mortal soul to offer an attractive sacrifice to a god. But 
when Zeus, who wears the aegis, makes up his mind, it is im¬ 
possible for any other god to thwart him or evade his will. And 
he says that you have with you here a man who has been dogged 
by misfortune, more so indeed than any of those with whom he 
shared the nine years of fighting round the walls of Troy and 
left for home when they had sacked it in the tenth. It appears that 
in setting out they gave offence to Athene, who raised a gale of 
wind and heavy seas against them. His loyal followers were lost 




to a man but he himself was brought here in due course by the 
winds and waves. And now Zeus bids you send him offwithout 
delay. He is not doomed to end his days on this island, away 
from all his friends. On the contrary, he is destined to see them 
yet, to reach his native land, and to step beneath the high roof of 
his house/ 

The divine Calypso listened in fear and trembling. When he 
had done, she unburdened her heart: ‘A cruel folk you are, un¬ 
matched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a god¬ 
dess sleep with a man, even if it is done without concealment 
and she has chosen him as her lawful consort. You were the same 
when Rose-fingered Dawn fell in love with Orion. Easy livers 
yourselves, you were outraged at her conduct, and in the end 
chaste Artemis rose from her golden throne, attacked him in 
Ortygia with her gentle darts and left him dead. And so again, 
when the lovely Demeter gave way to her passion and lay in the 
arms of her beloved Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow field, 
Zeus heard of it quickly enough and struck him dead with his 
blinding thunderbolt. And now it is my turn to incur that samp 
divine displeasure for living with a mortal man - a man whom 
I rescued from death as he was drifting alone astride the keel of 
his ship, when Zeus had shattered it with his lightning bolt out 
on the wine-dark sea, and all his men were lost, but he was 
driven to this island by the wind and waves. I welcomed him 
with open arms; I tended him; I even hoped to give him immor¬ 
tality and ageless youth. But now, goodbye to him, since no god 
can evade or thwart the will ofZeus. If Zeus insists that he should 
leave, let him be gone across the barren water. But he must not 
expect me to transport him. I have no ship, no oars, no crew to 
carry him so far across the seas. Yet I do promise with a good 
grace and unreservedly to give him such directions as will bring 
him safe and sound to Ithaca.’ 

‘ Then send him off at once, as you suggest,’ said Hermes, ‘ and 
so avoid provoking Zeus, or he may be annoyed and punish you 
one day.’ With this the mighty Giant-slayer took his leave. 

The Nymph at once sought out her noble guest, for the 



message from Zeus had not fallen on deaf ears. She found Odys¬ 
seus sitting on the shore. His eyes were wet with weeping, a* 
they always were. Life with its sweetness was ebbing away in the 
tears he shed for his lost home. For the Nymph had long since 
ceased to please. At nights, it is true, he had to sleep with her 
under the roof of the cavern, cold lover with an ardent dame. 
But the days found him sitting on the rocks or sands, torturing 
himself with tears and groans and heartache, and looking out 
with streaming eyes across the watery wilderness. 

The lovely goddess came and stood beside him now. ‘ My un¬ 
happy friend,’ she said, ‘ as far as I am concerned there is no need 
for you to prolong your miseries or waste any more of your life 
on this island. For I am ready with all my heart to help you leave 
it. But you must be up and doing. Fell some tall trees for timber, 
make a big boat with the proper tools, and fit it with a deck high 
enough to carry you across the misty seas. I will stock it myself 
with bread and water and red wine, all to your taste, so that you 
need be in no fear of starvation; and I’ll give you clothing too, 
and send you a following wind, so that you may reach your 
own country without accident, if it please the gods of the broad 
sky, who have more power to plan and to ordain than I have.’ 

The stalwart Odysseus shuddered at this and spoke his mind 
to Calypso. ‘ Goddess,’ he said, ‘ it is surely not my safe convey¬ 
ance but some other purpose that you have in mind when you 
suggest that I should cross this formidable sea, with all its diffi¬ 
culties, in such a craft. Even the fastest sailing-ships don’t make 
the voyage, though they like nothing better than the winds of 
heaven. So you can take if from me that I shall not entrust my¬ 
self to a boat, unless 1 can count on your goodwill. Could you 
bring yourself, goddess, to give me your solemn oath that you 
will not plot some new mischief against me?’ 

Lovely Calypso smiled and stroked him with her hand. 

* Odysseus,’ she protested, ‘ what a villain you are to think of such 
a thing to say! It shows the crafty way your own mind works. 
Now let Earth be my witness, with the broad Sky above, and 
the falling waters of Styx - the greatest and most solemn oath 




the blessed gods can take-that I harbour no secret plans for your 
discomfiture, but am thinking only of what I should do on my 
own behalf lfl found myself an your plight For I, after all, have 
some sense of what is fair, and my heart is not a block of iron 
I know what pity is ’ With these words the gracious goddess 
moved quickly away, and he followed her lead 

The goddess and the man reached the great cavern together 
and Odysseus seated himself on the chair that Hermes had just 
left, while the Nymph laid at his side the various kmds of food 
and drink that mortal men consume Then she sat down herself 
facing her royal guest, her maids set ambrosia and nectar beside 
her, and the two helped themselves to the dainties spread before 
them When they had enjoyed the food and drink, the Lady 
Calypso resumed their talk 

6 So you are determined, Odysseus, my noble and resourceful 
lord, to leave at once for home and your beloved Ithaca? Well, 
even so I wish you happiness Yet had you any inkling of the full 
measure of misery you are bound to endure before you reach 
your motherland, you would not move from where you are, 
but you would stay and share this home with me, and take on 
immortality, however much you long to see that wife of yours, 

I know that she is never out of your thoughts And yet I claim 
to be by no means her inferior in looks or figure, for surely it 
would be most unseemly for a woman to compete with a god¬ 
dess m elegance and looks’ 

To this the mmble-witted Odysseus replied ‘My lady god¬ 
dess, I beg you not to resent my feelmgs I too know well enough 
that my wise Penelope’s looks and stature are insignificant com¬ 
pared with yours For she is mortal, while you have immortality 
and unfading youth Nevertheless I long to reach my home and 
see the happy day of my return. It is my never-falling wish And 
what if the powers above do wreck me out on the wine-dark 
sea? I have a heart that is mured to suffering and I shall steel it to 
endure that too For m my day I have had many bitter and shat¬ 
tering experiences m war and on the stormy seas So let this new 
disaster come It only makes one more/ 




By now the sun had set and it grew dark. So the two retired 
to a recess in the cavern and there in each other’s arms they spent 
a night of love. 

But the new Dawn had scarcely touched the East with red 
before Odysseus put his cloak and tunic on. The Nymph dressed 
herself too in a long silvery mande of a light material charming 
to the eye, with a splendid golden belt round her waist, and a 
veil over her head. Then she turned her thoughts to the problem 
ofher noble guest’s departure. First she gave him a great axe of 
bronze. Its double blade was sharpened well, and the shapely 
handle of olive-wood fixed firmly in its head was fitted to his 
grip. Next she handed him an adze of polished metal; and then 
led the way for him to the farthest part of the island, where the 
trees grew tall, alders and poplars and firs that shot up to the sky, 
all withered timber that had long since lost its sap and would 
make buoyant material for his boat. When she had shown him 
the place where the trees were tallest the gracious goddess left 
for home, and Odysseus began to cut the timber down. He 
made short work of the task. Twenty trees in all he felled, and 
lopped their branches with his axe; then trimmed them in a 
workmanlike manner and trued them to the line. Presently Ca¬ 
lypso brought him augers. With these he drilled through all his 
planks, cut them to fit across each other, and fixed this flooring 
together by means of dowels driven through the interlocking 
joints, giving the same width to his boat as a skilled shipwright 
would choose in designing the hull for a broad-bottomed trad¬ 
ing vessel. He next put up the decking, which he fitted to ribs at 
short intervals, finishing off with long gunwales down the sides. 
He made a mast to go in the boat, with a yard fitted to it; and 
a steering-oar too, to keep her on her course. And from stem to 
stem he fenced her sides with plaited osier twigs and a plentiful 
backing ofbrushwood, as some protection against the heavy seas. 
Meanwhile the goddess Calypso had brought him cloth with 
which to make the sail. This he manufactured too; and then 
lashed the braces, halyards, and sheets in their places on board. 
Finally he dragged her down on rollers into the tranquil sea. 




By the end of the fourth day all his work was done, and on 
he fifth beautiful Calypso saw him off from the island. The 
joddess had bathed him first and fitted him out with fragrant 
dothing. She had also stowed two skins in his boat, one full of 
lark wine, the other and larger one of water, besides a leather 
ack of com and quantities of appetizing meats. And now a 
varm and gende breeze sprang up at her command. 

It was with a happy heart that the good Odysseus spread his 
ail to catch the wind and used his seamanship to keep his boat 
txaight with the steering-oar. There he sat and never closed his 
yes in sleep, but kept them on the Pleiads, or watched Bootes 
lowly set, or the Great Bear, nicknamed the Wain, which al¬ 
ways wheels round in the same place and looks across at Orion 
be Hunter with a wary eye. It was this constellation, the only 
me which never bathes in Ocean’s Stream, that the wise god- 
ess Calypso had told him to keep on his left hand as he made 
cross the sea. So for seventeen days he sailed on his course, and 
n the eighteenth there hove into sight the shadowy mountains 
f the Phaeacians’ country, which jutted out to meet him there, 
lie land looked like a shield laid on the misty sea. 

But now Poseidon, Lord of the Earthquake, who was on his 
/ay back from his visit to the Ethiopians, observed him from 
le distant mountains of the Solymi. The sight of Odysseus sail- 
lg over the seas added fresh fuel to his anger. He shook his head 
tid muttered to himself: * So I had only to go to Ethiopia for the 
ods to change their minds about Odysseus! And there he is, 
lose to the Phaeacians’ land, where he is destined to bring his 
>ng ordeal to an end. Nevertheless I mean to let him have his 
ellyful of trouble yet.* 

Whereupon he marshalled the clouds and seizing his trident 
l his hands stirred up the sea. He roused the stormy blasts of 
re ry wind that blows, and covered land and water alike with a 
inopy of cloud. Darkness swooped down from the sky. East 
find and South and the tempestuous West fell to on one 
lother, and from the North came a white squall, rolling a 
:eat wave in its van. Odysseus’ knees shook and his spirit 

96 ODYSSEY * BOOK Y [298- 

quailed. h 1 anguish he communed with that great heart of his: 

‘Poor wretch, what will your end be now? I fear the goddess 
prophesied all too well when, she told me I should have my full 
measure of agony on the sea before I reached my native land. 
Every word she said is coming true, as I can tell by the sky, with 
its vast coronet of clouds from Zeus, and by the sea that he has 
raised with angry squalls from every quarter. There is nothing 
for me now but sudden death. They are the lucky ones, those 
countrymen of mine who fell long ago on the broad plains of 
Troy in loyal service to the sons of Atreus. If only I too could 
have met my fate and died that day the Trojan hordes let fly at 
me with their bronze spears over Achilles’ corpse! I should at 
least have had my burial rites and the Achaeans would have 
spread my fame abroad. But now it seems I was predestined to 
a villainous death/ 

As he spoke, a mountainous wave, advancing with majestic 
sweep, crashed down upon him from above and whirled his 
vessel round. The steering-oar was tom from his hands, and he 
himself was tossed off the boat, while at the same moment the 
warring winds joined forces in one tremendous gust, which 
snapped the mast in two and flung the sail and yard far out 
into the sea. For a long time Odysseus was kept under water. 
Weighed down by the clothes which the goddess Calypso had 
given him, he found it no easy matter to fight his way up against 
the downrush of that mighty wave. But at last he reached the air 
and spat out the bitter brine that kept streaming down his face. 
Exhausted though he was, he did not forget his boat, but raced 
after her through the surf, scrambled up, and squatting amid¬ 
ships felt safe from immediate death. The heavy seas thrust him 
with the current this way and that. As the North Wind at har¬ 
vest-time tosses about the fields a ball of thistles that have stuck 
together, so did the gusts drive his craft hither and thither 
over the sea. Now the South Wind would toss it to the North 
to play with, and now the East would leave it for the West to 

But there was a witness of Odysseus’ plight. This was the 




daughter of Cadmus, Ino of the slim ankles, who was once a 
woman speaking like ourselves, but now lives in the salt depths 
of the sea, and, as Leucothoe, has been acknowledged by the 
gods. She took pity on the forlorn and woebegone Odysseus, 
rose from the water like a sea-mew on the wing, and settled on 
his boat. 

4 Poor man/ she said to him, ‘ why is Poseidon so enraged with 
you that he sows nothing but disasters in your path? At any rate 
he shall not kill you, however hard he tries. Now do exactly 
what I say, like the sensible man you seem to be. Take off those 
clothes, leave your boat for the winds to play with, and swim 
for your life to the Phaeacian coast, where deliverance awaits 
you. Here; take this veil and wind it round your waist. With its 
divine protection you need not be afraid of injury or death. But 
directly you touch the dry land with your hands, undo the veil 
and throw it far out from shore into the wine-dark sea; and as 
you do so turn your eyes away/ 

As she spoke the goddess gave him the veil, and then like a 
mew she dived back into the turbulent sea and the dark waters 
swallowed her up. Stalwart Odysseus was left in perplexity and 
distress, and once more took counsel with his indomitable soul, 
asking himself with a groan whether this advice to abandon his 
boat was not some new snare that one of the immortals had set 
to catch him. 

4 No/ he decided; ‘I will not leave the boat at once, for I saw 
with my own eyes how far the land is where she promised me 
salvation. Instead, I shall do what I myself think best. As long as 
the joints of my planks hold fast, I shall stay where I am and put 
up with the discomfort. But when the seas break up my boat, 
Ill swim for it, since, as far as I can see, there will be no better 

As Odysseus was turning this over in his mind, Poseidon the 
Earthshaker sent him another monster wave. Grim and men¬ 
acing it curled above his head, then hurtled down and scattered 
the long timbers ofhis boat, as a boisterous wind will tumble a 
parched heap of chaff and scatter it in all directions. Odysseus 

98 ODYSSEY * BOOK V [ 37 *- 

scrambled onto one of the beams, and bestriding it like a rider 
on horseback cast off the clothes that Calypso had given him. 
Then he wound the veil round his middle, and with arms out¬ 
stretched plunged headlong into the sea and boldly struck out. 

But the Lord Poseidon spied him again and once more shook 
his head and muttered low: ‘ So much for you! Now make your 
miserable way across the sea, until you come into the hands of a 
people whom the gods respect. Even though you reach them, I 
do not think you’ll be in any mood to scoff at the buffeting you 
will have had.* With this, Poseidon lashed his long-maned 
horses and drove to Aegae, where he has his palace. 

At this point Athene, Daughter of Zeus, decided to intervene. 
She checked all the other Winds in their courses, bidding them 
calm down and go to sleep; but from the North she summoned 
a strong breeze, with which she beat the waves down in the 
swimmer’s path, so that King Odysseus might be rescued from 
the jaws of death and come into the hands of the sea-faring 

For two nights and two days he was lost in the heavy seas. 
Time and again he saw his end at hand. But in the morning of 
the third day, which Dawn opened in all her beauty, the wind 
dropped, a breathless calm set in, and Odysseus, keeping a sharp 
lookout ahead as he was lifted by a mighty wave, could see the 
land close by. He felt all the relief that a man’s children feel when 
their father, wasted by long agonies abed in the malignant grip 
of some disease, passes the crisis by god’s grace and they know 
that he will live. Such was Odysseus’ happiness when he caught 
that unexpected glimpse of wooded land. He swam quickly on 
in his eagerness to set foot on solid ground. But when he had 
come within call of the shore, he heard the thunder of surf on a 
rocky coast. With an angry roar the great seas were battering at 
the ironbound land and all was veiled in spray. There were no 
coves, no harbours that would hold a ship; nothing but head¬ 
lands jutting out, sheer rock, and jagged reefs. When he realized 
this, Odysseus knees quaked and his courage ebbed. He groaned 
in misery as he summed up the situation to himself: 




‘When I had given up hope, Zeus let me see the land, and I 
have taken all the trouble to swim to it across those leagues of 
water, only to find no way whatever of getting out of this grey 
surf and making my escape. Off shore, the pointed reefs set in a 
raging sea; behind, a smooth cliff rising sheer; deep water near 
in; and never a spot where a man could stand on both his feet 
and get to safety. If I try to land, I may be lifted by a roller and 
dashed against the solid rock - in which case I’d have had my 
trouble for nothing. While, if I swim farther down the coast on 
the chance of finding a natural harbour where the beaches take 
the waves aslant, it is only too likely that another squall will 
pounce on me and drive me out tojoin the deep-sea fish, where 
all my groans would do no good. Or some monster might be 
inspired to attack me from the depths. Amphitrite has a name 
for mothering plenty of such creatures in her seas; and I am well 
aware how the great Earthshaker detests me/ 

This inward debate was cut short by a tremendous wave 
which swept him forward to the rugged shore, where he would 
have been flayed and all his bones been broken, had not the 
bright-eyed goddess Athene put it into his head to dash in and 
lay hold of a rock with both his hands. He clung there groaning 
while the great wave marched by. But no sooner had he escaped 
its fury than it struck him once more with the full force of its 
backward rush and flung him far out to sea. Pieces of skin 
stripped from his sturdy hands were left sticking to the crag, 
thick as the pebbles that stick to the suckers of a squid when he 
is torn from his hole. The great surge passed over Odysseus’ 
head and there the unhappy man would have come to an unpre¬ 
destined end, if Athene had not inspired him with a wise idea. 
Getting clear of the coastal breakers as he struggled to the sur¬ 
face, he now swam along outside them, keeping an eye on the 
land, in the hope of lighting on some natural harbour with 
shelving beaches. Presently his progress brought him off the 
mouth of a fast-running stream, and it struck him that this was 
the best spot he could find, for it was not only clear of rocks but 
sheltered from the winds. The current told him that he was at a 




river’s mouth, and in his heart he prayed to the god of the 

‘Hear me, although I do not know your royal name; for in 
you I find the answer to all the prayers I have made for deliver¬ 
ance from the sea and from Poseidon’s malice. Even the im¬ 
mortal gods do not rebuff a poor wanderer who comes to them 
for help, as I now turn to you after much suffering and seek the 
sanctuary of your stream. Take pity on me, royal River. I claim 
a suppliant’s rights.’ 

In answer to his prayer the River checked its current, and 
holding back its waves made smooth the water in the swim¬ 
mer’s path, and so brought him safely to land at its mouth. 
Odysseus bent his knees and sturdy arms, exhausted by his 
struggle with the sea. All his flesh was swollen and streams of 
brine gushed from his mouth and nostrils. Winded and speech¬ 
less he lay there too weak to stir, overwhelmed by his terrible 
fatigue. Yet directly he got back his breath and came to life 
again, he unwound the goddess’ veil from his waist and let it 
drop into the river as it rushed out to sea. The strong current 
swept it downstream and before long it was in Ino’s own hands. 
Odysseus turned his back on the river, threw himself down in 
the reeds and kissed the bountiful earth. 

And now he grimly faced his plight, wondering, with a 
groan, what would happen to him next and what the end of this 
adventure would be. ‘ If I stay in the river-bed,’ he argued, ‘ and 
keep awake all through the wretched night, the bitter frost and 
drenching dew together might well be too much for one who 
has nearly breathed his last through sheer exhaustion. And I 
know what a cold wind can blow up from a river in the early 
morning. If, on the other hand, I climb up the slope into the 
thick woods and lie down in the dense undergrowth to sleep off 
my chill and my fatigue, then, supposing I do go offinto a sound 
sleep, there is the risk that I may make a meal for beasts of prey.’ 

However, in the end he decided that this was the better course 
and set off towards the wooded ground. Not far from the river 
he found a copse with a clear space all round it. Here he crept 




under a pair of bushes, one an olive, the other a wild olive, which 
grew from the same stem with their branches so closely inter¬ 
twined that when the winds blew moist not a breath could get 
inside, nor when the sun shone could his rays penetrate their 
shade, nor could the rain soak right through to the earth. Odys¬ 
seus crawled into this shelter, and after all he had endured was 
delighted to see the ground littered with an abundance of dead 
leaves, enough to provide covering for two or three men in the 
hardest winter weather. He set to work with his hands and 
scraped up a roomy couch, in the middle of which he lay down 
and piled the leaves over himself, covering his body as carefully 
as a lonely crofter in the far corner of an estate buries a glowing 
brand under the black ashes to keep his fire alive and save him¬ 
self from having to seek a light elsewhere. And now Athene 
filled Odysseus’s eyes with sleep and sealed their lids - the surest 
way to relieve the exhaustion caused by so much toil. 



While the noble, much-enduring Odysseus, conquered by 
sleep and worn out by his exertions, lay resting there, Athene 
came to the country of the Phaeacians and entered their city. 
These Phaeacians had once lived in the broad lands ofHypereie, 
and been neighbours to the Cyclopes, a quarrelsome people, 
who took advantage of their greater strength to plague them, 
till the day when their king, Nausithous, made them migrate 
and settled them in Scherie, far from the busy haunts of men. 
There he laid out the walls of a new city, built them houses, put 
up temples to the gods, and allotted the land for cultivation. But 
he had met his fate long since and gone to Hades’ Halls; and it 
was now the divinely-inspired Alcinous who ruled them. To 
his palace the bright-eyed goddess Athene made her way, still 
intent on her plans for King Odysseus’ restoration. 

The good King Alcinous had a young daughter called Nausi- 
caa, tall and beautiful as a goddess. She was asleep now in her 
richly-furnished room, with two of her ladies, both blest with 
beauty by the Graces, lying by the door-posts, one on either 
side. The polished doors were closed; but Athene swept 
through like a breath of air to the girl’s bed, leant over the head 
of it and spoke to her disguising herself as the daughter of a 
ship s captain named Dymas, a woman of Nausicaa’s own age 
and one of her bosom friends. 

Nausicaa,’ said bright-eyed Athene, imitating her friend’s 
voice, how did your mother come to have such a lazy daughter 
as you? Look at the lovely clothing you allow to lie about neg¬ 
lected, although you may soon be married and stand in need of 
beautiful clothes, not only to wear yourself but to provide for 
your bridegroom’s party. It’s this kind of thing that gives a girl 
a good name in the town, besides pleasing her father and her 




mother. Let us go and do some washing together the first thing 
in the morning. I offer to go with you and help, so that you can 
get yourself ready as soon as possible, for you certainly won’t 
remain unmarried long. Why, every nobleman in the place 
wants you for his wife, you, a Phaeacian princess. Do ask your 
royal father in the morning to have a waggon made ready for 
you with a couple of mules. These waistbands and robes, and 
glossy wraps could go in it, and it would be much more com¬ 
fortable for you yourself to drive than to go on foot, as it’s a 
long way from the city to the washing-pools. ’ 

When she had finished, Athene of the flashing eyes withdrew 
to Olympus, where people say the gods have made their ever¬ 
lasting home. Shaken by no wind, drenched by no showers, and 
invaded by no snows, it is set in a cloudless sea oflimpid air with 
a white radiance playing over all. There the happy gods spend 
their delightful days, and there the Lady of the Bright Eyes 
went when she had explained her wishes to the girl. 

Soon after, Dawn enthroned herself in the sky, and Nausicaa 
in her lovely gown awoke. She was amazed at her dream and 
set out at once through the palace to tell her father and her 
mother. She found them both in the house. Her mother was 
sitting at the hearth with her maids, spinning yam stained with 
sea-purple; and she caught her father just as he was going out to 
join his princely colleagues at a conference to which he was 
called by the Phaeacian nobles. She went as close to him as she 
could and said: 

‘Father dear, I wonder if you could tell them to get me a big 
waggon with strong wheels, so that I can take all the fine clothes 
that I have lying dirty here to the river to wash ? And indeed it is 
only decent for you yourself when you are discussing affairs of 
state with important people to have clean linen on your back. 
Then again, there are five sons of yours in the palace, two of 
them married, while three are merry bachelors who are always 
asking for clothes straight from the wash to wear at dances. It is 
I who have to think of all these things.’ 

She spoke in this way because she was too shy to mention her 

104 ODYSSEY • BOOK VI [67- 

marriage to her father. But he understood her thoroughly and 

T don’t grudge you the mules, my child, or anything else. 
You may go; and the servants shall get you a fine big waggon 
with a hood to it.’ 

He called to his men and they set to work. While they pre¬ 
pared a smooth-running mule-cart outside the house, led the 
mules under the yoke and harnessed them to the vehicle, Nausi- 
caa fetched the gay clothing from the store-room. She then 
packed it in the polished waggon, while her mother filled a box 
with various kinds of appetizing provisions and dainties to go 
with them, and poured some wine into a goatskin bottle. The 
girl climbed into the cart and her mother handed her a golden 
flask of soft olive-oil, so that she and her maids could anoint 
themselves after bathing. And now Nausicaa took the whip and 
the glistening reins, and flicked the mules to make them go. 
There was a clatter ofhooves, and then they stepped out bravely, 
taking the clothes and their mistress along. But as her maids fol¬ 
lowed and kept her company, she was not left to go alone. 

In due course they reached the noble river with its never- 
failing pools, in which there was enough clear water always 
bubbling up and swirling by to clean the dirtiest clothes. Here 
they turned the mules loose from under the yoke and drove 
them along the eddying stream to graze on the sweet grass. 
Then they lifted the clothes by armfuls from the cart, dropped 
them into the dark water and trod them down briskly in the 
troughs, competing with each other in the work. When they 
had rinsed them till no dirt was left, they spread them out in a 
row along the sea-shore, just where the waves washed the shingle 
clean when they came tumbling up the beach. Next, after bath¬ 
ing and rubbing themselves with olive-oil, they took their meal 
at the riverside, waiting for the sunshine to dry the clothes. And 
presently, when mistress and maids had all enjoyed their food, 
they threw off their headgear and began playing with a ball, 
while Nausicaa of the white arms led them in their song. It was 
just such a scene as gladdens Leto’s heart, when her Daughter, 




Artemis the Archeress, has come down from the mountain along 
the high ridge of Taygetus or Erymanthus to chase the wild 
boar or the nimble deer, and the Nymphs of the countryside 
join with her in the sport. They too are heaven-bom, but Arte¬ 
mis overtops them all, and where all are beautiful there is no 
question which is she. So did this maiden princess stand out 
among her ladies. 

When the time came for Nausicaa to set out for home after 
yoking the mules and folding up the clothes, the bright-eyed 
goddess Athene intervened once more and arranged for Odys¬ 
seus to wake up and see this lovely girl who was to serve as his 
escort to the Phaeacian city. Accordingly, when the princess 
passed the ball to one ofher maids, she missed her and dropped 
it instead into the deep and eddying current. At this they all gave 
a loud shriek. The good Odysseus awoke, and sitting up took 
counsel with himself. 

‘Alas! ’ he sighed. ‘ What country have I come to now? What 
people are there here? Some brutal tribe of lawless savages, or 
kindly and god-fearing folk? And what is this shrill echo in my 
ears, as though some girls were shrieking? Nymphs, I suppose 
- who haunt the steep hill-tops, the springs of rivers, and the 
grassy meadows. Or am I within hail, by any chance, ofhuman 
beings who can talk as I do? Well, I must go and use my own 
eyes to find out/ 

So the gallant Odysseus crept out from under the bushes, after 
breaking off with his great hand a leafy bough from the thicket 
to conceal his naked manhood. Then he advanced on them like 
a mountain lion who sallies out, defying wind and rain in the 
pride ofhis power, with fire in his eyes, to hunt the oxen or the 
sheep, to stalk the roaming deer, or to be forced by hunger to 
besiege the very walls of the homestead and attack the pens. The 
same urgent need now constrained Odysseus, naked as he was, 
to bear down upon these gentle girls. Begrimed with salt he 
made a gruesome sight, and one look at him sent them scuttling 
in every direction along the jutting spits of sand. Alcinous* 
daughter was the only one to stand firm. Emboldened by 

106 ODYSSEY * BOOK VI l 1 * 0 " 

Athene, who stopped her limbs from trembling, she checked 
herself and confronted him, while Odysseus considered whether 
he should throw his arms round the beautiful girl’s knees and so 
make his prayer, or be content to keep his distance and beg her 
with all courtesy to give him clothing and direct him to the city. 
After some hesitation he decided that as the lady might take 
offence if he embraced her knees it would be better to keep his 
distance and politely plead his case. In the end, his address was 
not only disarming but full of subtlety: 

‘Mistress, I throw myself on your mercy. But are you some 
goddess or a mortal woman? If you are one of the gods who live 
in the sky, it is of Artemis, the Daughter of almighty Zeus, that 
your beauty, grace, and stature most remind me. But if you are 
one of us mortals who live on earth, then lucky indeed are your 
father and your gentle mother; lucky, your brothers too. How 
their hearts must glow with pleasure every time they see their 
darling join the dance! But he is the happiest of them all who 
with his wedding gifts can win you for his home. For never have 
I set eyes on such perfection in man or woman. I worship as I 
look. Only in Delos have I seen the like, a fresh young palm-tree 
shooting up by the altar of Apollo, when my travels took me 
there - with a fine army at my back, that time, though the ex¬ 
pedition was doomed to end so fatally for me. I remember how 
long I stood spellbound at the sight, for no lovelier sapling ever 
sprang from the ground. And it is with just the same wonder 
and veneration that I look at you, my lady; with such awe, in¬ 
deed, that I dare not clasp your knees, though my troubles are 
serious enough. Only yesterday, after nineteen days of it, I made 
my escape from the wine-dark sea. It took all that time for the 
waves and the tempestuous winds to carry me here from the 
island of Ogygia. And now some god has flung me on this shore, 
no doubt to suffer more disasters here. For I have no hope that 
my troubles are coming to an end: the gods have plenty in store 
for me before that can be. Pity me, my queen. You are the first 
person I have met after all I have been through, and I do not 
know a soul in this city or this land. I beg you to direct me to the 




town and to give me some rag to put round myself, if only the 
wrapper you may have brought for your linen when you came. 
And in return may the gods grant you your heart’s desire; may 
they give you a husband and a home, and the harmony that is so 
much to be desired, since there is nothing nobler or more admir¬ 
able than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as 
man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their 
friends, as they themselves know better than anyone.’ 

‘Sir/ said the white-armed Nausicaa, ‘your manners prove 
that you are no rascal and no fool; and as for these ordeals of 
yours, they must have been sent you by Olympian Zeus, who 
follows his own will in dispensing happiness to people whatever 
their merits. You have no choice but to endure. But since you 
have come to our country and our city here, you certainly shall 
not want for clothing or anything else that an unfortunate out¬ 
cast has the right to expect from those he approaches. I will show 
you to the town and tell you who we are. This country and the 
city you will see belong to the Phaeacians. I myself am the 
daughter of King Alcinous, who is the head and mainstay of 
our state.’ 

Here she turned and called out her orders to the gentle¬ 
women in attendance: ‘ Stop, my maids. Where are you flying 
to at the sight of a man? Don’t tell me you take him for an 
enemy, for there is no man on earth, nor ever will be, who would 
dare to set hostile feet on Phaeacian soil. The gods are too fond 
of us for that. Remote in this sea-beaten home of ours, we are 
the outposts of mankind and come in contact with no other 
people. The man you see is an unfortunate wanderer who has 
strayed here, and now commands our care, since all strangers 
and beggars come under the protection of Zeus, and the charity 
that is a trifle to us can be precious to others. Bestir yourselves, 
girls, provide our guest with food and drink, and bathe him in 
the river where there’s shelter from the wind.’ 

The rebuke from their mistress checked the women’s flight. 
They called halt to each other, and then found Odysseus a seat 
in the sheltered spot that the Princess Nausicaa had pointed out. 

X08 ODYSSEY * BOOK VI [ 2 , 14 -— 

On the ground beside him they laid a cloak and tunic for him to 
wear, and giving him some soft olive-oil in a golden flask they 
suggested that he should wash himself in the running stream- 
But the gallant Odysseus demurred. 

‘Ladies,' he said, ‘be good enough to stand back over there 
and leave me to wash the brine myself from my shoulders and 
rub my body with olive-oil, to which it has long been a stranger. 
I am not going to take my bath with you looking on. I should 
be ashamed to stand naked in the presence of gentlewomen/ 

At this the maids withdrew and told their young mistress 
what had occurred. Meanwhile Odysseus was cleaning himself 
with river-water of the salt that encrusted his back and his broad 
shoulders, and scrubbing his head free of the scurf left there by 
the barren brine.When he had thoroughly washed and rubbed 
himself with oil and had put on the clothes which the young 
girl had given him, Athene, Daughter of Zeus, made him seem 
taller and sturdier than ever and caused the bushy locks to hang 
from his head thick as the petals of the hyacinth in bloom. Just as 
a craftsman trained by Hephaestus and herself in the secrets of 
his art takes pains to put a graceful finish to his work by over¬ 
laying silver-ware with gold, she finished now by endowing 
his head and shoulders with an added beauty. When Odysseus 
retired to sit down by himself on the sea-shore, he was radiant 
with comeliness and grace. Nausicaa gazed at him in admiration 
and said to her fair attendants: 

‘Listen, my white-armed maids, while I tell you what I have 
been thinking. This man’s arrival among the Phaeacians, who 
are so near the gods themselves, was not unpremeditated by the 
Olympian powers. For when first we met I thought he cut a 
sorry figure, but now he looks like the gods who live in heaven. 
That is the kind of man whom I could fancy for a husband, if he 
would settle here. I only hope that he will choose to stay. But 
come, girls, give the stranger something to eat and drink/ 

Her maids at once carried out her orders and set food and 
drink before the stalwart Odysseus, who ate and drank with 
avidity, for it was a long time since he had tasted any food. 




Meanwhile Nausicaa of the white arms had come to a de¬ 
cision. After folding up the clothing, she stowed it in her fine 
waggon, harnessed the sturdy mules, and herself climbed in. 
Then she called to Odysseus and gave him his instructions. 

‘Come, sir,’ she said, ‘it is time for you to make a move to¬ 
wards the city, so that I may direct you to my good father’s 
house, where you can count on meeting all the Phaeacian no¬ 
bility. But this is how you must manage - and I take you for a 
man of tact. So long as we are passing through the country and 
the farmers’ lands, walk quickly with my maids behind the 
waggon and the mules, following my lead. But that will not 
do when we come to town. 

‘ Our city is surrounded by high battlements; it has an excel¬ 
lent harbour on each side and is approached by a narrow cause¬ 
way, where the curved ships are drawn up to the road and each 
owner has his separate slip. Here is the people’s meeting-place, 
built up on either side of the fine temple of Poseidon with blocks 
of quarried stone bedded deeply in the ground. It is here too 
that the sailors attend to the rigging of the black ships, to their 
cables and their sails, and the smoothing of their oars. For the 
Phaeacians have no use for the bow and quiver, but spend their 
energy on masts and oars and on the graceful craft they love to 
sail across the foam-flecked seas. 

‘Now it is the possibility of unpleasant talk among these 
sailors that I wish to avoid. I am afraid they might give me a bad 
name, for there are plenty of vulgar fellows in the place, and I 
can well imagine one of the baser sort saying after he had seen 
us: “Who is this tall and handsome stranger Nausicaa has in 
tow? Where did she run across him? Her future husband no 
doubt! She must have rescued some shipwrecked foreigner 
who had strayed this way, since we have no neighbours of our 
own. Or perhaps some god has answered her importunate 
prayers and stooped from heaven to make her his for ever. And 
it is better so, better that she should venture out herself and find 
a husband from abroad. For she obviously despises her country¬ 
men here, though so many of the best would like to marry her.” 


That is how they will talk, and my good name would suffer. 
Indeed I should blame any girl who acted so, with her parents 
alive, running away from her friends to consort with men before 
she was properly married. 

‘ So you, sir, had best take note of my directions, if you wish 
to make sure ofbeing sent home by my father with the least pos¬ 
sible delay. You will see near the path a fine poplar wood sacred 
to Athene, with a spring welling up in the middle and a meadow 
all round. That is where my father has his royal park and vege¬ 
table garden, within call of the city. Sit down there and wait 
awhile till we get into the town and reach my father’s house. 
When you think we have had time to do so, go into the city 
yourself and ask for the palace of my father, King Alcinous. It is 
quite easy to recognize: any little child could show it you. For 
the houses of the rest are not built in anything like the style 
of Lord Alcinous’ mansion. Directly you have passed through 
the courtyard and into the buildings, walk quickly through the 
great hall till you reach my mother, who generally sits in the 
firelight by the hearth, weaving yam stained with sea-purple, 
and forming a delightful picture, with her chair against a pillar 
and her maids sitting behind. My father’s throne is close to hers, 
and there he sits drinking his Wine like a god. Slip past him and 
clasp my mother’s knees if you wish to make certain of an early 
and happy return to your home, however far you may have 
strayed. For, once you have secured her sympathy, you may 
confidently expect to get back to your motherland and to walk 
once more into your own fine house and see your friends again.’ 

When she had finished, Nausicaa used her glistening whip on 
the mules, and they soon left the flowing river behind them, 
swinging along at a steady trot. But the princess kept them to a 
pace which allowed the maids and Odysseus to keep up with her 
on foot, and used her judgement in laying on the whip. As the 
sun was setting they reached the well-known grove that bore 
Athene s name. Here the good Odysseus sat down and pro¬ 
ceeded to offer up a prayer to the Daughter of almighty Zeus. 

Listen to me, unsleeping child of Zeus who wears the aegis, 



- 33 l] 

and hear my prayer this time, though you turned a deaf ear to 
me the other day, when I was shipwrecked and the great Earth- 
shaker broke me up. Grant that the Phaeacians may receive me 
with kindness and compassion/ 

ing before him, out of deference to her Father’s Brother, who 
persisted in his rancour against the noble Odysseus till the very 
day when he reached his own land. 



While the much-enduring Odysseus was praying in Athene’s 
grove, the two sturdy mules brought the princess to the city. 
When she reached her father’s palace, she drew up at the en¬ 
trance, and her handsome brothers gathered round her, unhar¬ 
nessed the mules from the cart, and carried the clothes indoors. 
She herself retired to her own apartments, where a fire was lit 
for her by the chambermaid Eurymedusa, an old Aperaean 
woman whom they had brought years before from Aperaea 
in their rolling ships and selected as a prize for Alcinous, the 
King of all Phaeacian folk and idol of the people. It was this 
woman who looked after the white-armed Nausicaa at home, 
and who now busied herself with the lighting of the fire and 
preparations for her mistress’ supper in the inner room. 

Meanwhile Odysseus started for the town. Athene, in her 
concern for his welfare, enveloped him in a thick mist, to ensure 
him against insult or challenge from any truculent Phaeacian 
who might cross his path. He was just about to go into the 
pleasant town when the bright-eyed goddess herself came to 
meet him, disguised as a young girl carrying a pitcher, and 
halted in his way. 

‘My child,’ said Odysseus, T wonder if you could kindly 
direct me to the house of Alcinous, the king of this country. For 
you see I am a stranger here, who has come from a distant land 
and met with misfortune on the way; which accounts for my 
not knowing a single soul in the city or the country round.’ 

‘Sir,’ replied the bright-eyed Athene, ‘I shall be pleased to 
take you to the house you are inquiring for, since it lies close to 
my good father’s place. But you must follow my lead without a 
word, look at nobody as you come, and ask no questions. For 
the people here have little affection for strangers and do not 

^5p] the PALACE OP ALCINOUS 113 

welcome visitors with open arms. They pin their faith on the 
clippers that carry them across the far-flung seas, for Poseidon 
has made them a sailor folk, and these ships of theirs are as swift 
as a bird or as thought itself/ 

With this Pallas Athene led the way at a quick pace and Odys¬ 
seus followed in the goddess' steps. The Phaeacians, those 
famous seamen, failed to observe him as he passed them by on 
his way through the town. For the Lady Athene used her for¬ 
midable powers to prevent it, shedding a magic mist round her 
favourite in her concern for his safety. As he walked, Odysseus 
marvelled at the harbours with their well-found ships, at the 
meeting-place of the sea-lords and at their long and lofty 
walls, which were surmounted by palisades and presented a 
wonderful sight. 

When they reached the king’s palace, the bright-eyed god¬ 
dess Athene turned to him and said: 

‘Here, sir, you see the house that you asked me to show you. 
You will find highborn princes feasting there, but go straight 
in and have no qualms. For it is the bold man who every time 
does best, at home or abroad. Once in the palace make straight 
for the Queen. Her name is Arete and she comes from the same 
family as Alcinous the King. Nausithous, the first of the line, 
was the son of Poseidon the Earthshaker and of Periboea, the 
loveliest woman ofher time. She was the youngest daughter of 
the great Eurymedon, who was once king of that haughty race, 
the Giants, but led his headstrong people to destruction, and 
himself came to an untimely end. Poseidon made Periboea his 
mistress and by her had a son, Nausithous the Magnificent, who 
was king of the Phaeacians. And Nausithous had two sons, 
Rhexenor and Alcinous. Rhexenor had not long been married 
and had as yet no son when he was killed by Apollo with his 
silver bow. But he left one daughter, Arete, in his palace. Alci¬ 
nous made her his wife and gave her such homage as no other 
woman receives who keeps house for her husband in the world 
today. Such is the extraordinary and heartfelt devotion which 
she has enjoyed in the past and still enjoys, both from her 




children and Alcinous himself, and from the people, who wor¬ 
ship her, and greet her when she walks through the town. For she 
is not only the Queen but a wise woman too, and when her sym¬ 
pathies are enlisted she settles even men’s disputes. So if only 
you can secure her friendly interest, you may well hope to 
return to your native land, to step under the high roof of your 
own house and to see your friends once more/ 

Athene finished, and now left the pleasant land of Scherie, 
crossed the barren seas, and came to Marathon and the broad 
streets of Athens, where she entered the great palace of Erech- 

Meanwhile Odysseus approached Alcinous’ splendid dwell¬ 
ing. His heart was filled with misgivings and he hesitated before 
setting foot on the bronze threshold. For a kind of radiance, like 
that of the sun or moon, lit up the high-roofed halls of the great 
king. Walls of bronze, topped with blue enamel tiles, ran round 
to left and right from the threshold to the back of the court. The 
interior of the well-built mansion was guarded by golden doors 
hung on posts of silver which sprang from the bronze threshold. 
The lintel they supported was of silver too, and the door-handle 
of gold. On either side stood gold and silver dogs, which 
Hephaestus had made with consummate skill, to keep watch 
over the palace of the great-hearted Alcinous and serve him as 
immortal sentries never doomed to age. Inside the hall, high 
chairs were ranged along the walls on either side, right round 
from the threshold to the chamber at the back, and each was 
draped with a delicately woven cover that the women had 
worked. Here the Phaeacian chieftains sat and enjoyed the food 
and wine which were always forthcoming, while youths of 
gold, fixed on stout pedestals, held flaming torches in their hands 
to light the banqueters in the hall by night. 

The house keeps fifty maids employed. Some grind the apple- 
golden com in the handmill, some weave at the loom, or sit and 
twist the yam, their hands fluttering like the tall poplar’s leaves, 
while the soft olive-oil drips from the close-woven fabrics they 
have finished. For the Phaeacians’ extraordinary skill in handling 

-144] the palace of alcinous 115 

ships at sea is rivalled by the dexterity of their womenfolk at the 
loom, so expert has Athene made them in the finer crafts, and so 

Outside the courtyard but stretching close up to the gates, and 
with a hedge running down on either side, lies a large orchard of 
four acres, where trees hang their greenery on high, the pear and 
the pomegranate, the apple with its glossy burden, the sweet fig 
and the luxuriant olive. Their fruit never fails nor runs short, 
winter and summer alike. It comes at all seasons of the year, and 
there is never a time when the West Wind’s breath is not assist¬ 
ing, here the bud, and here the ripening fruit; so that pear after 
pear, apple after apple, cluster on cluster of grapes, and fig upon 
fig are always coming to perfection. In the same enclosure there 
is a fruitful vineyard, in one part of which is a warm patch of 
level ground, where some of the grapes are drying in the sun, 
while others are gathered or being trodden, and on the foremost 
rows hang unripe bunches that have just cast their blossom or 
show the first faint tinge of purple. Vegetable beds of various 
kinds are neatly laid out beyond the farthest row and make a 
smiling patch of never-failing green. The garden is served by 
two springs, one led in rills to all parts of the enclosure, while its 
fellow opposite, after providing a watering-place for the towns¬ 
folk , runs under the courtyard gate towards the great house it¬ 
self. Such were the beauties with which the gods had adorned 
Alcinous’ home. 

Stalwart Odysseus stood before the house and eyed the scene. 
When he had enjoyed all its beauty, he stepped briskly over the 
threshold and entered the palace. There he found the chieftains 
and counsellors of the Phaeacians pouring libations from their 
cups to the keen-eyed Giant-slayer, with an offering to whom it 
was their custom to finish before retiring to bed. But the stout¬ 
hearted Odysseus marched straight up the hall, wrapped in the 
mist that Athene shed about him, till he reached Arete and King 
Alcinous and threw his arms around Arete’s knees. At the same 
moment the magic mist that had hidden him rolled away, and 
at the sight of this man in their midst a silence fell on all the 


banqueters up and down the hall. They stared at Odysseus in 
amazement while he made his petition: 

4 Arete, daughter of divine Rhexenor, as one who has suffered 
much I seek refuge with your lord, I abase myself at your knees, 
and I appeal to these guests. May the gods grant them happiness 
for life and give each the joy of bequeathing to his sons the 
treasures of his house and the honours which the people have 
allotted him. As for myself, I beg you to arrange for my con¬ 
veyance to my own country, as soon as may be, for I have had to 
live through many a long day of hardship since last I saw my 

His petition made, he sat down in the dust by the hearth, close 
to the fire. And from that whole company there came not a 
sound, until at last the silence was broken by the venerable lord, 
Echeneus, a Phaeacian elder who was the most eloquent speaker 
among them and rich in the wisdom of his forefathers. At this 
juncture he made his friendly counsel heard: 

‘Alcinous, it is unseemly and unlike your royal ways to let a 
stranger sit in the dust at the hearth, while the guests around you 
must patiently await your lead. I beg you, sir, to let him rise and 
seat himself on one of the silver thrones, and to tell your 
squires to mix some wine so that we can make a fresh libation, to 
Zeus the Thunderer, who watches over suppliants that deserve 
respect. Also let the housekeeper fetch supper from the larder 
for our visitor/ 

Thus reminded, the divine king, Alcinous, took the wise and 
subtle Odysseus by the hand, raised him from the hearth and 
seated him on a polished throne, which the gallant Laodamas, 
his favourite son, who sat next to him, vacated at his request. A 
maid came with water in a beautiful golden ewer and poured it 
out over a silver basin so that he could rinse his hands. Then she 
drew a wooden table to his side, and the staid housekeeper 
brought some bread and put it by him with a choice of dainties, 
helping him liberally to all she could offer. While the stalwart 
Odysseus ate and drank, King Alcinous gave an order to his 

- 2 is] the palace of alcxnous 117 

‘Pontonous, mix a bowl of wine and fill the cups of all the 
company in the hall, so that we may now make a drink-offering 
to Zeus the Thunderer, who watches over suppliants that de¬ 
serve respect/ 

So Pontonous prepared a bowl of mellow wine, from which 
after first pouring out a few drops in each man’s cup he served 
the whole company. Then, when they had made their libations 
and drunk their fill, Alcinous addressed them: 

Captains and Counsellors of the Phaeacians, may I have your 
attention while I tell you what is in my mind? I suggest, now 
you have dined, that you should disperse to your homes for the 
night; and in the morning we will summon a fuller gathering of 
the elders for the entertainment of our visitor here and to sacri- 
Sce to the gods. We will then take up the matter of his passage so 
is to ensure him without trouble or anxiety the happiness of a 
juick return to his country under our escort, however far he 
nay have wandered from it. And we will safeguard him on the 
vay from any further hardship or accident till he sets foot in his 
>wn land. After which he must suffer whatever Destiny and the 
elentless Fates spun for him with the first thread oflife when he 
ame from his mother’s womb. But if he turns out to be one of 
he immortals come down from heaven, then the gods must be 
•laying some new trick upon us. For in the past they have al¬ 
ways shown themselves to us without disguise when we have 
ffered them their sumptuous sacrifices; and at our banquets 
le Y ru b shoulders with us. Even when a traveller meets them 
n his lonely way, they make no concealment; for we are near 
) them, like the Cyclopes and the wild tribes of the Giants.’ 

Alcinous,’ Odysseus was quick to reply, ‘on that score you 
Lay set your mind at rest. You can see that I have neither the 
oks nor the stature of the immortal gods who live in heaven, 
it am a human being. Think of the wretches who in your ex- 
:rience have borne the heaviest load of sorrow, and I will 
atch my griefs with theirs. Indeed I think that I could tell an 
'en longer tale of woe, if I gave you a full account of what I 
.ve been fated to endure. But all I ask of you now is your leave 

Il8 ODYSSEY • BOOK VII [ 2 , 1 $" 

to eat my supper, in spite of all my troubles. For nothing in the 
world is so incontinent as a man’s accursed appetite. However 
afflicted he may be and sick at heart, it calls for attention so 
loudly that he is bound to obey it. Such is my case: my heart is 
sick with grief, yet my hunger insists that I shall eat and drink. It 
makes me forget all I have suffered and forces me to take my fill* 
But at daybreak I beg you to make arrangements for landing 
this unfortunate guest of yours in his own country. I have had 
hard times indeed. Once let me see my own estate, my servants, 
and the high roof of my great house, and I shall be content to 
breathe my last.’ 

He had made good his case. They all applauded and voted 
that the stranger should be given his passage. Then, after making 
a libation and satisfying their thirst, they retired for the night to 
their several homes, leaving royal Odysseus sitting in the hall 
beside Arete and King Alcinous, while the maids cleared the 
dinner things away. 

White-armed Arete was the first to break the silence. For in 
the fine cloak and tunic she saw him wearing she recognized 
some clothes that she herselfhad made with her women’s help- 
Hence her pointed inquiries: 

‘ Sir, I shall make so bold as to ask you some questions without 
further ado. Who are you? Where do you hail from? And who 
gave you those clothes? Didn’t I gather from youjust now that 
chance had brought you here across the seas?’ 

‘My Queen,’ Odysseus guardedly replied, ‘it would be a 
wearisome business to tell you all I have been through from first 
to last, for I have had a long spell of evil luck. So I shall confine 
myself to your questions. Far out at sea there is an island called 
Ogygia, where Atlas’ daughter, the wily Calypso, lives. She is a 
goddess, beautiful indeed, but to be feared. No god or man 
comes near her. And yet I had the misfortune to be brought by 
some power to her hearth, I was alone, for with one ofhis blind¬ 
ing bolts Zeus had smashed my good ship to pieces out in the 
wine-dark sea. My loyal company all lost their lives. But I got 
my arms round the curved ship’s keel and for nine days kept 


afloat. In the blackness of the tenth night the gods washed me 
ashore on Ogygia, the home of Calypso, that formidable god¬ 
dess with the beautiful locks. She took me in and looked after 
me with loving care. She even talked of making me immortal 
and immune from age for ever. But never for a moment did she 
win my heart. Seven years without a break I stayed, bedewing 
with my tears the imperishable clothes Calypso gave me. But at 
last, when the eighth came round in its course, she urged me to 
be gone, either in obedience to a message from Zeus or because 
her own feelings had changed. She sent me off in a boat I had put 
together, after providing me generously with bread and sweet 
wine, and clothing me in her imperishable stuffs. She also caused 
a warm and kindly wind to blow. So for seventeen days I sailed 
across the sea and on the eighteenth the shadowy mountains of 
your land hove in sight, and I rejoiced. Too soon, poor man, for 
Poseidon the Earthshaker was yet to send me plenty of troubles 
to face. Rousing the winds against me, he brought me to a stand¬ 
still; and as I sat groaning there he stirred the sea to such 
unspeakable fury that my boat was unable to ride the waves. Be¬ 
fore long, a squall had smashed her to pieces. However, I man¬ 
aged by swimming to make my way across that stretch of water, 
till the winds and the set of the current brought me to your coast. 
There I tried to land; but the swell would have driven me right 
up to a great cliff at a most inhospitable spot and dashed me on 
the rocks. So I sheered off and swam back from the shore. In the 
end I reached a river, which struck me as offering the best pos¬ 
sible landing-place, clear of rocks and sheltered from the wind. 
I struggled out and lay where I fell till I could rally my strength. 
Meanwhile the solemn night came on. So after climbing up 
from the bed of that heaven-fed river I lay down in a thicket, 
heaped leaves over my body and by god’s grace fell into a sound 
sleep. In my exhausted condition I slept there in the leaves all 
night and right through the morning into the middle of the day. 
In fact the sun was on his downward path when I awoke from 
my refreshing sleep to find your daughter’s maids playing games 
on the beach. The princess herself was with them and I almost 

120 ODYSSEY • BOOK VII [ 292 - 

took her for a goddess. It was to her that I applied for help. And 
she proved what good sense she has, acquitting herself in a way 
you would not expect in one so young. For young people are 
thoughtless as a rule. But she not only gave me plenty of bread 
and sparkling wine, but made me bathe in the river and pro¬ 
vided me with the clothes you see. That is the truth of the 
matter, though I am too sad at heart to make a story of it/ 
Here Alcinous put in a word. ‘Sir/ he said to Odysseus, ‘in 
one respect I do find fault with my gir/sjudgement. She should 
have brought you straight home with her maids. After all, she 
was the first person you had applied to for help/ 

‘My lord/ replied the resourceful Odysseus, ‘your daughter 
is not to blame for that, and I beg you not to take her to task. She 
did tell me to follow along with the servants. But in my modesty 
I shrank from doing so, thinking it possible that you might be 
annoyed at the sight. We men are jealous folk/ 

‘ My friend/ replied Alcinous, ‘ I am not one to take umbrage 
at a trifle: we must always be fair. Now you are a man like— 
minded with myself, and that being so, I could wish for nothing 
better than for you to have my daughter and take your place 
here as my son-in-law, in a house I should provide and furnish 
for you. That is, if you were willing to stay. But if you wish to 
go, not one of us Phaeacians shall detain you. God forbid such a 
thing! And to set your mind at rest, I now appoint a day for your 
conveyance home: tomorrow, let us say. You shall lie there 
lapped in sleep, while they row you over tranquil seas, till you 
come to your own country and your house or anywhere else 
where you would like to go. Nor does it matter if the spot is 
even more remote than Euboea, which is said to be at the world’s 
end by those of our sailors who saw it, that time they took red- 
haired Rhadamanthus to visit Tityos, the son ofEarth. They not 
only got there, I must tell you, but finished the return trip also in 
one and the same day without fatigue. But you shall learn from 
your own experience the surpassing excellence of my ships and 
how good my young men are at churning up the sea water with 
their oars/ 


Odysseus’ patient heart was filled with happiness as he lis¬ 
tened, and he raised his voice in prayer: 

‘O Father Zeus, grant that Alcinous may accomplish all that 
he has promised. His fame would never die wherever mankind 
till the soil, and I should come again to the land of my fathers/ 

While they were conversing, white-armed Arete gave her 
maids instructions to put a bedstead in the portico and to furnish 
it with the finest purple rugs, spread sheets over these, and add 
warm blankets on top for covering. The servants, torch in hand, 
went out of the hall and busied themselves at this task. When 
they had spread the things on the well-made bedstead, they 
.came up to Odysseus and invited him to retire. ‘ Up, sir, and 
come/ they said, ‘for your bed is made/ And he realized then 
how glad he would be to get to sleep. 

So the good Odysseus, after all his troubles, slept there in the 
echoing portico on a wooden bedstead, while Alcinous lay 
down for the night in his room at the back of the high building 
with his consort, who made and shared his bed. 



As soon as the fresh Dawn had decked herself in crimson, the 
divine King Alcinous left his bed and conducted Odysseus, the 
royal sacker of cities, who had risen at the same time, to the 
place by the ships where the Phaeacians held their Assemblies; 
and there they sat down side by side on seats of polished marble. 
In the meantime Pallas Athene, pursuing her plans for the heroic 
Odysseus’ return, went up and down the town disguised as a 
herald from the wise prince Alcinous. She accosted each of the 
Counsellors and gave them all this message: 

Captains and Counsellors of the Phaeacians, follow me to 
the Assembly, where you shall hear about the stranger who has 
just arrived at our wise prince’s palace. He has wandered all over 
the seas, and he looks like an immortal god.’ 

Her news filled everyone with excitement and curiosity. In a 
short time not only the seats but all parts of the meeting-place 
were filled by the throng that crowded in; and many an eye was 
fixed in admiration on Laertes’ keen-witted son, whose head 
and shoulders Athene invested with a more than human beauty, 
besides making him seem taller and broader, so that he might 
inspire the whole Phaeacian people not only with affection but 
with fear and respect, and might emerge successfully from all 
the tests they put him through. When everyone had arrived and 
the muster was complete, Alcinous rose to address them: 

Captains and Counsellors of the Phaeacians, I beg for your 
attention. There is a matter here that I wish to put before you. 
The stranger at my side -1 do not know his name, nor whether 
he has come from Eastern or from Western lands - has in the 
course of his travels become my guest. He asks for his passage 
home and begs us to assure him this favour. Ipropose, in accord¬ 
ance with our custom, that we make immediate arrangements 


for his conveyance. For there never has been a time when one 
who has come to my house has had to complain of his detention 
here for lack of escort. So let us run a black ship down into the 
friendly sea for her maiden voyage, and from the town pick 
fifty-two young oarsmen who have proved their excellence. 
This crew, when they have all made their oars fast at the benches, 
may leave the ship and repair to my house, where they can fall 
to and take a hasty meal: I will make ample provision for all. 
These are my orders for the ship’s company. 

‘As for the rest, I invite you that are sceptred kings to my 
palace with a view to entertaining our visitor indoors. I shall 
accept no refusal. And let our glorious bard, Demodocus, be 
summoned. For no other singer has his heavenly gift of delight¬ 
ing our ears whatever theme he chooses for his song.’ 

When Alcinous had finished speaking he made a move, and 
the sceptred kings went with him. His equerry set out in search 
of the excellent minstrel, and meanwhile fifty-two young men 
were chosen and made their way, as he had directed, to the shore 
of the barren sea. When they had reached the ship and come 
down to the beach, they dragged the black vessel into deep 
water, put the mast and sails on board, fixed the oars in their 
leather loops, all ship-shape, and hauled the white sail up. Then 
they moored her well out in the water, and proceeded to the 
great house of their wise king, where the galleries, the courts, and 
the apartments themselves were filled with a throng of people. 
The young men and the old together made up a numerous com¬ 
pany, for whose benefit Alcinous sacrificed a dozen sheep, eight 
white-tusked boars, and a couple of shambling oxen. These they 
flayed and made ready for the table, and so prepared a goodly 

The equerry now came up, leading their favourite bard, 
whom the Muse loved above all others, though she had mingled 
good and evil in her gifts, robbing him of his eyes but lending 
sweetness to his song. Pontonous placed a silver-studded chair 
for him in the centre of the company, with its back to one of the 
great pillars, and the equerry hung his tuneful lyre on a pegjust 



[ 68 - 

above his head and showed him how to lay his hand upon it. At 
his side he put a basket and a handsome table, together with a 
cup of wine to drink when he was thirsty. Then they all helped 
themselves to the good fare that was spread before them. 

When they had satisfied their appetite and thirst, the bard was 
inspired by the Muse to sing of famous men. He chose a passage 
from a lay well known by then throughout the world, the 
Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles, telling how these two had 
fallen out at a rich ceremonial banquet and dismayed the rest by 
the violence of their language, though King Agamemnon was 
secretly delighted to see the Achaean chieftains at loggerheads. 
He was reminded of the prophecy that Phoebus Apollo had 
made to him in sacred Pytho when he crossed the marble thres¬ 
hold to consult the oracle, in those days when almighty Zeus was 
conjuring up the great wave of disasters that was to overwhelm 
Trojans and Danaans alike. 

This was the theme of the famous minstrel’s lay. It caused 
Odysseus to lift his purple mantle with his sturdy hands and 
draw it down over his head to hide his comely face, for he was 
ashamed to be caught weeping by the Phaeacians. But in the 
intervals of the worthy minstrel’s song, he wiped the tears away 
and removing the cloak from his head reached for his two- 
handled cup and made libations to the gods. Yet whenever 
Demodocus started singing again, encouraged by thePhaeacian 
lords, who were enjoying the tale, Odysseus once more hid his 
face and wept. He managed to conceal his tears from everyone 
except Alcinous. But the King could not help observing his con¬ 
dition, as he was in the next seat to Odysseus and could hear his 
heavy sighs. He spoke up before long and said to the Phaeacian 

‘ My Lords and Counsellors, we have had our fill of the good 
things we have shared, and of the banquet’s boon companion, 
the harp. Let us go out of doors now and try our hands at various 
sports, so that when our guest has reached his home he can tell 
his friends that at boxing, wrestling, jumping, and running there 

-144] SHE ehaeacian games 125 

With these words he led the way and was followed by the 
rest. The equerry hung Demodocus’ tuneful lyre on its peg, 
took the bard’s hand and guided him out of the palace, in the 
wake of the Phaeacian nobility as they set out to see the games. 
They all made for the place of assembly and were followed there 
by a gathering many thousands strong. 

There was no lack of young noblemen to compete - Acro- 
neos, Ocealus, Elatreus, Nauteus, Prymneus, Anchialus, Eret- 
meus, Ponteus, Proreus, Thoon, and Anabesineos, Amphialus 
son ofPolyneus and grandson ofTecton, and Euryalus too, the 
son ofNaubolus, who looked a match for the man-killing War- 
god and was the most handsome and stalwart of all the Phaea- 
cians next to the peerless Laodamas. Good King Alcinous’ three 
sons, Laodamas, Halius, and Prince Clytoneus, also took part. 

The first event was a race. They ran all out from scratch, 
raising a cloud of dust on the track as they flew along in a serried 
mass. But there was no doubt about the fastest man. The excel¬ 
lent Clytoneus shot ahead, and when he reached the crowd at 
the post had left the rest behind by as much as the width of 
fallow that mules plough in a day. Wrestling came next - a 
tougher sport; and here it was Euryalus’ turn to beat all the 
champions. Amphialus won the jump; at throwing the disk, 
Elatreus carried all before him; and in the boxing, Laodamas, 
Alcinous’ worthy son. When they had all enjoyed the games, it 
occurred to the same Laodamas to make a suggestion to the rest: 

‘Come along, you fellows, and let us ask our visitor here if 
he’s an expert in any form of sport. He is well enough built: 
look at his thighs and legs, look at the pair of hands he has on 
him, and that great neck. The man is mighty strong, and he’s 
not so old, either. What has broken him down is his hard life. 
For I tell you, there’s nothing like the sea to break the stoutest 

‘Laodamas,’ said Euryalus, ‘I like your idea. Go and have a 
word with the man yourself and challenge him.’ 

Thus encouraged Alcinous’ worthy son made his way to the 
centre and addressed Odysseus: 




‘Come, sir, won’t you take a hand with us in our games, if 
you’re good at any sport? You must surely be an athlete, for no¬ 
thing makes a man so famous for life as what he can do with his 
hands and feet. Come along then and have a try, casting your 
cares aside; for it won’t be long before you are off on your 
journey. Your ship is launched already and the crew are stand¬ 
ing by.’ 

Odysseus answered him promptly: 4 Laodamas, why vex me 
with your challenges, you and your friends? I am too sick at 
heart to think of games. I have been through many bitter and 
exhausting experiences, and all I seek now is my passage home, 
which is why I am sitting here in your assembly to plead my 
suit with your king and your whole nation.’ 

Euryalus now saw fit to interpose and insult him to his face: 
‘You are quite right, sir. I should never have taken you for an 
athlete such as one is accustomed to meet in the world. But 
rather for some skipper of a merchant crew, who spends his life 
on a hulking tramp, worrying about his outward freight, or 
keeping a sharp eye on the cargo when he comes home with the 
profits he has snatched. No; one can see you are no sportsman.’ 

With a black look the nimble-witted Odysseus retorted: 
‘That, sir, was an ugly speech, and you must be a fool to have 
made it. It shows that we cannot all hope to combine the pleas¬ 
ing qualities of good looks, brains, and eloquence. A quite in¬ 
significant-looking fellow may yet be a heaven-born orator 
watched with delight as he advances confidently and with per¬ 
suasive modesty from point to point, the one man who stands 
out in the gathering and is stared at like a god when he passes 
through the town. Another may be as handsome as an immortal, 
yet quite deficient in the graceful art of speech. You yourself, 
sir, present a most distinguished exterior to the world- the gods 
themselves could not improve it - but you have the brains of a 
dolt. You have stirred me to anger with your inept remarks, 
and I’d have you realize that I am no novice at sport, as you sug¬ 
gest, but consider myself to have been in the first rank so long as 
I was able to rely on the strength of my youth. But as things are, 




all the misfortunes and hardships I have endured in warfare and 
in fighting my way through hostile seas weigh heavily upon me. 
All the same, and in spite of what I have gone through, I’ll try 
my luck at the sports. For words can sting, and yours have put 
me on my mettle.’ 

With this he leapt to his feet and, not even troubling to re¬ 
move his cloak, picked up the biggest disk of all, a huge weight, 
more massive by far than those used in their regular matches. 
With one swing he launched it from his mighty hand, and the 
stone hummed on its course. The Phaeacians, lords of the sea and 
champions of the long oar, cowered down as it hurtled through 
the air; and so lightly did it fly from his hand that it overshot the 
marks of all the other throws. Athene, pretending to be one of 
the crowd, marked the distance of the cast, and saluted the 

‘Look, sir,’ she called, ‘ even a blind man could pick out your 
peg, by feeling with his hands. The others are all in a bunch, but 
yours stands right out in the front. As far as this event is con¬ 
cerned, you can set your mind at rest. None of the Phaeacians 
will make as good a throw, let alone a better.’ 

Her announcement delighted the much-enduring Odysseus, 
who was happy to find a real friend in the lists and now addressed 
the Phaeacians in lighter vein: 

‘ Reach that, my young friends, if you can, though I shouldn’t 
be surprised if presently I sent along another just as far or even 
farther. And since you have thoroughly roused me, come out, if 
any of you fancy the idea and have the pluck, come out and take 
me on - at boxing, wrestling, or even running, I don t care 
which. Laodamas, whose guest I am, is the only one among you 
all whom I except, for who would fight his host? A man must 
be out of his senses or an utter fool to challenge the friend who is 
entertaining him in a strange country. He would only wreck his 
own prospects by doing so. But of the rest of you, there is no 
one I’m too proud to take on; in fact I’m ready to meet and 
match myself against all comers. For I am not a bad hand all 
round at any kind of manly sport. I can handle well the polished 

228 ODYSSEY - BOOK VIII [ 216 - 

bow, and I should be the first to pick off my man with an arrow 
in the enemy ranks, however many of my side might be stand¬ 
ing by and shooting at their marks. Philoctetes was the only one 
who used to beat me with the bow when we Achaeans practised 
archery at Troy. Of all others now alive and eating their bread 
on the face of the earth, I claim to be by far the best, though I 
should not care to compete with the men of the past, with 
Heracles, for instance, or Eurytus of Oechalia, who as bowmen 
were a match even for the gods. In fact that was why the great 
Eurytus came to a sudden end and never lived to see old age in 
his home, but was killed by Apollo, whom he had offended by 
challenging him to a match. As for the javelin, I can throw it 
farther than anyone else can shoot an arrow. It is only in running 
that I am afraid some of you might outstrip me. I was too badly 
knocked about by the rough seas, for in that boat of mine all 
comfort soon gave out, and as a result my limbs have lost their 

Odysseus came to an end, and they all held their tongues, 
leaving it to Alcinous to make him a reply. 

My friend, said the King, ‘ we can take no exception to what 
you say. Angered as you are at the way this fellow came up and 
insulted you in the lists, you naturally wish to prove your native 
mettle. No one who knew how to talk sense would thus have 
belittled your prowess. But listen now to what I have to say. 
When you are banqueting in your own home with your wife 
and your children beside you, and the talk turns on what the 
Phaeacians excel in, I want you to be able to tell your noble 
friends that Zeus has given us too a certain measure of success, 
which has held good from our forefathers’ time to the present 
day. Though our boxing and wrestling are not beyond criti- 
cism, we can run fast and we are first-rate seamen. But the things 
in which we take a perennial delight are the feast, the lyre, the 
dance, clean linen in plenty, a hot bath, and our beds. So forward 
now, my champion dancers, and show us your steps, so that 
when he gets home our guest may be able to tell his friends how 
t we leave all other folk behind in seamanship, in speed of foot, 



in dancing, and in song. And let one of you run and fetch Demo- 
docus the lyre that is so tuneful in his hands. They left it lying 
somewhere in my house.' 

At the King's word, an equerry set off to fetch the well-made 
instrument from the palace, and the official stewards, a com¬ 
mittee of nine, took matters in hand. These were public servants 
who supervised all the details on such occasions. They now 
swept the dancing-floor and cleared a ring wide enough for the 
performance. Meanwhile the equerry came up to Demodocus 
and handed him his tuneful lyre. The minstrel then moved for¬ 
ward to the centre; a band of expert dancers, all in the first bloom 
ofyouth, took up their positions round him; and their feet came 
down on the sacred floor with a scintillating movement that 
filled Odysseus with admiration as he watched. 

Presently the bard’s fine voice was heard above the music of 
his lyre. His theme was the love of Ares and Aphrodite of the 
beautiful crown. He sang of their first and stealthy meetings in 
Hephaestus’ palace; of the many gifts Ares made her, and of the 
dishonour he did to King Hephaestus’ bed. But the Sun - his lay 
went on to tell - had witnessed their loving embraces and came 
to inform Hephaestus, who, when he heard the galling truth, 
went straight to his workshop with his heart full of evil thoughts, 
laid his great anvil on the stithy and forged a chain network that 
could neither be broken nor undone, so as to keep them prison¬ 
ers for ever. His fury with Ares inspired him as he worked, 
and when the snare was finished he went to the room where 
his bed was laid and threw the netting right round the bedposts. 
A number of further lengths were attached to the rafters over¬ 
head and hung down light as gossamer and quite invisible even 
to the blessed gods. It was a masterpiece of cunning work. 

When he had thus surrounded the bed and set his trap, he 
made a pretence of leaving for the pleasant town of Lemnos, his 
favourite spot on earth. Meanwhile Ares of the Golden Reins 
had not kept watch for nothing. Directly he saw the Master- 
craftsman leave, he made his way to the great god’s house, filled 
with a passionate desire for Cythereia of the lovely crown. Now 

130 ODYSSEY • BOOK VIII [ 289 - 

she had lately returned from a visit to her mighty Father, Zeus, 
and had just sat down when Ares came in at the door, grasped 
her hand and saluted her fondly. 

‘ Come, my beloved, 9 he said, ‘let us go to bed and He in each 
other’s arms, for Hephaestus is no longer about. He has gone to 
Lemnos, I think, to visit his Sintian friends and Hsten to their 
barbarous talk. 9 

Aphrodite desired nothing better than to sleep with him; so 
the two went to the bed and lay down. Whereupon the netting 
which Hephaestus’ ingenuity had contrived fell around them 
in such a way that they could not move or lift a limb. They 
found too late that there was no escape. And now they were 
faced by the great lame god himself. For the Sun, acting as his 
spy, had given him word; and he had turned back before reach¬ 
ing the island of Lemnos and hurried home in anguish. Standing 
there in the entrance he was seized by a spasm of rage and 
raised his voice in a terrible shout, so that all the gods might 
hear him: 

' Father Zeus and you other happy gods who live for ever, 
come here and see a comic and cruel thing. Zeus’ Daughter 
Aphrodite has always despised me for my lameness, and now 
she has given her heart to this butcher, Ares, just because he is 
good-looking and sound of Hmb, while I was bom a cripple. 
And whom have I to blame for that, if not my father and my 
mother? I wish they had never begotten me! But you shall see 
how these two have crept into my bed and are sleeping in each 
other’s loving arms. The sight cuts me to the quick. Yet I have 
an idea that they won’t be eager to prolong that embrace, no, 
not for a moment, not for all their love. Theirs is a sleep that 
both will soon be tired of. But my cunning meshes are going 
to keep them just where they are, till her Father hands me back 
every one of the gifts I made him to win this brazen-faced 
hussy, who may be his Daughter and a lovely creature but is 
the slave of her passions.’ 

His shouts brought the gods trooping to the house with the 

— T T~ _ T> :j ..1 T? .JL JL _1 _ TT _ 


the bringer of luck; and the archer king, Apollo; but the god¬ 
desses, constrained by feminine modesty, all stayed at home. 
There they stood, then, in front of the doors, the immortals 
who are the source of all our blessings; and when they caught 
sight of Hephaestus’ clever device a fit of uncontrollable 
laughter seized these happy gods. 

‘Bad deeds don’t prosper,’ said one of them with a glance at 
his neighbour; ‘the tortoise catches up the hare. See how our 
slow-moving Hephaetus has caught Ares, though no god on 
Olympus can run as fast. Hephaestus may be lame, but his 
craft has won the day. And now Ares will have to pay him an 
adulterer’s fine.’ 

This was the kind of comment that was made, and King 
Apollo, Son of Zeus, turned to Hermes and said: 

‘Hermes, you that are Son of Zeus, Ambassador and Giver 
of good things, would you care, though held in those unyield¬ 
ing shackles, to lie in bed by golden Aphrodite’s side?’ 

To which the Giant-slayer replied: ‘Apollo, my royal 
Archer, there is nothing I should relish more. Though the 
chains that kept me prisoner were three times as many, though 
all you gods and all the goddesses were looking on, yet would 
I gladly sleep by golden Aphrodite’s side.’ 

His jest raised another laugh from all the gods except Posei¬ 
don, who was not amused, but kept urging the great smith 
Hephaestus to free Ares from the net. 

‘Let him go,’ he insisted: ‘and I promise you that he himself 
shall make full and proper atonement, as required by you, in 
the presence of the immortal gods.’ 

‘Poseidon, Girdler of the Earth,’ replied the illustrious lame 
god, ‘I beg you, do not press me. Even a surety for a scoundrel 
is a poor thing to hold in hand. How could I subject you to 
public arrest if Ares were to shuffle out of his debt as well as 
out of his chains?’ 

‘Hephaestus,’ said Poseidon the Earthshaker, ‘if Ares does 
repudiate his debt and abscond, I myself will pay you the 

132 ODYSSEY • BOOK VIII [ 357 - 

‘To such an offer from you/ replied the great lame god, ‘I 
cannot and I must not answer no/ 

With that the mighty Hephaestus undid the chains, and the 
two of them, freed from the shackles that had proved so strong, 
leapt up and fled, Ares to Thrace, and laughter-loving Aphro¬ 
dite to Paphos in Cyprus, where she has her sacred precinct and 
an altar fragrant with incense. There the Graces bathed her and 
anointed her with the imperishable oil that the immortals use. 
And when they had decked her out in her lovely clothes she 
was a marvel to behold. 

This was the song that the famous minstrel sang, to the de¬ 
light of Odysseus and the rest of his audience, the Phaeacian 
sea-lords, those lovers of the oar. 

After this Alcinous commanded Halius and Laodamas to 
dance by themselves, siiice no one could compete with them. 
Polybus, a skilled craftsman, had made them a beautiful purple 
ball, which they took in their hands, and one of them, bending 
right back, would throw it up towards the shadowy clouds, 
and the other, leaping up from the ground, would catch it 
deftly in his turn before his feet touched earth again. After 
showing their skill at this high play, they began tossing the 
ball quickly to and fro as they moved in their dance on the 
bountiful earth, while the other youths stood at the ringside 
beating time, till the air was filled with sound, and the good 
Odysseus turned to his host with a compliment: 

‘Alcinous, my royal and most worshipful prince, you 
boasted just now that your dancers are supreme. Your claim is 
made good. I marvel at the sight of them/ 

His praise delighted the august Alcinous, who turned at once 
to his sea-faring subjects and said: 

‘Listen, Princes and Elders of the Phaeacians, I find a nice 
discernment in this guest of ours. Let us make him a friendly 
donation, as is only proper. Our folk have for their chiefs and 
rulers twelve eminent princes, or thirteen if you count myself. 
I suggest that each one of us present him with a fresh mantle, a 
tunic, and a talent of sterling gold. Let us quickly gather all our 


gifts together, so that the stranger can take possession and come 
to supper in a happy frame of mind. As for Euryalus, he must 
make amends to him by a personal apology, and a present as 
well, for his incivility was marked/ 

His suggestions found favour with all and were adopted. 
Each of the princes dispatched his equerry to fetch the gifts, 
and Euryalus spoke up in answer to the king’s rebuke: 

‘Alcinous, my royal and most worshipful prince, I am ready 
to obey you and make atonement to the stranger. I will give 
him this sword of bronze, which has a silver hilt and a sheath of 
fresh ivory to hold it - a gift he will value/ 

He then laid the sword with its silver mounting in Odysseus’ 
hands, and addressed him with studied courtesy: 

‘Father and stranger, I salute you. If some offensive words 
escaped my lips, let the storm-winds blow them hence; and 
may the gods give you the joy of getting home again and 
seeing your wife, since you have been away from your friends 
and lived a hard life for so long/ 

‘ Friend/ said the wise Odysseus, ‘ I return your kindly greet¬ 
ing. May the gods bless you! And I only hope you will not one 
day miss the sword you have given me here with such con¬ 
ciliatory words/ And as he spoke he slung the silver weapon 
from his shoulder. 

By sunset he was in possession of all their noble gifts, which 
were carried to Alcinous’ palace by their well-born equerries. 
There the good king’s sons took charge of them and placed the 
magnificent collection at their worthy mother’s feet. Mean¬ 
while King Alcinous brought the rest of the company to his 
house, where they seated themselves on high chairs, and Alci¬ 
nous called to Arete. 

‘My dear/ he said, ‘bring a good coffer here, the best we 
have, and put a fresh mantle and a tunic in it on your own 
account. Then see that they heat a copper over the fire and 
make some water warm for our guest, so that when he has had 
his bath and seen that all the gifts which the Phaeacian nobles 
have brought him here are properly packed, he can dine at his 




ease and enjoy the minstrel's lay that he will hear. And see, f 11 
give him this beautiful golden chalice of mine, so that he may 
have me in mind for the rest of his days when he makes drink- 
offerings in his house to Zeus and to the other gods.' 

Arete told her maid-servants to put a large three-legged 
cauldron on the fire at once. They set the cauldron for the bath¬ 
water on the glowing fire, filled it with water, and brought 
faggots, which they kindled beneath it. The flames began to 
lick round the belly of the cauldron and the water was heated. 
Meanwhile Arete brought out from the inner chamber a fine 
coffer for their guest, in which she packed the splendid gifts of 
clothing and of gold which the Phaeacians had made him. To 
these, on her own account, she added a mantle and a tunic of 
good quality, and then gave Odysseus a word of advice. 

‘You had better see to the lid yourself, now,’ she said, ‘and 
tie it up at once with a knot, so that you may not be robbed on 
your journey when you're enjoying a good sleep by and by as 
the black ship carries you along.’ 

Stalwart Odysseus took her advice and fixed the lid on at 
once, fastening it neatly with a complicated knot that the Lady 
Circe had once taught him. No sooner was the task completed 
than the housekeeper invited him to get into his bath and wash. 
It was a pleasure to him to see a hot bath again, for he had not 
been used to such comforts since leaving the home of the refined 
Calypso, though while he was there he had received constant 
attention like a god. When the maids had bathed and anointed 
him, and had clothed him in a fine cloak and a tunic, he left the 
bath to join the men at their wine. 

Now Nausicaa, in all her heaven-sent beauty, was standing 
by one of the pillars that supported the massive roof. Filled 
with admiration as her eyes fell on Odysseus, she greeted him 

‘ Good luck, my friend,’ she said, ‘ and I hope that when you 
are in your own country you will remember me at times, since 
it is to me before all others that you owe your life.’ 

‘ Princess Nausicaa, ’ answered the wise Odysseus, ‘ I do indeed 




pray Zeus the Thunderer and Lord of Here to let me see the 
day of my return and reach my home. If he does, then even 
there I will never fail to worship you all the rest of my days. 
For it was you, lady, who gave me back my life/ 

With this he took a chair by the side of King Alcinous, for 
they were already serving the portions and mixing the wine. 
An equerry now came in leading their beloved bard Demo- 
docus, the people’s favourite. He seated him in the centre of the 
company with his back against one of the high columns, and 
at once the thoughtful Odysseus, carving a portion from the 
chine of a white-tusked boar, which was so large that more 
than half was left, with plenty of rich fat on either side, called 
to a serving-man and said: 

4 Here, my man, take this helping to Demodocus and let him 
eat it, with kindly wishes from my unhappy self. No one on 
earth can help honouring and respecting the bards, for the 
Muse has taught them the art of song and she loves the minstrel 

The man took the meat and handed it to the lord Demo¬ 
docus, who accepted the attention with pleasure. The company 
now helped themselves to the good fare that was spread before 
them, and when they had satisfied their thirst and hunger, 
Odysseus turned to the minstrel and said: 

‘Demodocus, I give you the highest possible praise. Either 
Zeus’ Child, the Muse, or Apollo must have been your teacher. 
For it is remarkable how well you sing the tale of the Achaeans’ 
fate and of all their achievements, sufferings, and toils. It is al¬ 
most as though you had been with them yourself or heard the 
story from one who was. But I ask you now to change your 
theme and sing to us of the making of the Wooden Horse, 
which Epeius built with Athene’s help, and which my lord 
Odysseus contrived to introduce one day into the citadel of 
Troy as an ambuscade, manned by the warriors who then 
sacked the town. If you can satisfy me in the telling of this tale 
I shall be ready to acknowledge to the world how generously 
the god has endowed vou with the heavenlv oiff nf Qono- * 

136 ODYSSEY • BOOK VIII [ 499 - 

The bard took his cue from Odysseus and beginning with an 
invocation to the god unfolded the tale. He took it up at the 
point where the Argives after setting fire to their huts had 
embarked on their galleys and were sailing off, while the re¬ 
nowned Odysseus and his party were already sitting in the 
place of assembly at Troy, concealed within the Horse, which 
the Trojans had themselves dragged into the citadel. There 
stood the Horse, with the Trojans sitting round it and indul¬ 
ging in a war of words. Three policies emerged. Some were for 
piercing the wooden frame with a bold stroke of the spear; 
others would have dragged it to the edge of the heights and 
hurled it down the rocks; while others again wished to let it 
stand as a signal offering to appease the gods - and that was just 
what happened in the end. For it was destiny that they should 
fall when Troy received within her walls that mighty Wooden 
Horse, laden with the pick of the Argive chivalry bringing 
doom and slaughter to the Trojans. He went on to sing how 
the Achaean warriors, deserting their hollow ambuscade, 
poured out from the Horse to ravage Troy; how they scat¬ 
tered through the steep streets of the city leaving ruin in their 
wake; and how Odysseus, looking like Ares himself, went 
straight to Deiphobus’ house with the gallant Menelaus. And 
there, sang the bard, he rushed into the most terrible of all his 
fights, which in the end he won with Athene’s magnanimous 

Odysseus broke down as the famous minstrel sang this lay, 
and his cheeks were wet with the tears that ran down from his 
eyes. He wept as a woman weeps when she throws her arms 
round the body of her beloved husband, fallen in battle before 
his city and his comrades, fighting to save his home-town and 
his children from disaster. She has found him gasping in the 
throes of death; she clings to him and lifts her voice in lamenta¬ 
tion. But the enemy come up and belabour her back and 
shoulders with spears, as they lead her off into slavery and a life 
of miserable toil, with her cheeks wasted by her pitiful grief. 
Equally pitiful were the tears that now welled up in Odysseus’ 

-.567] the ehaeacian games 137 

eyes, and though he succeeded in hiding them from all but the 
King, Alcinous could not help observing his condition, for he 
was sitting next to him and heard his heavy groans. He spoke 
up at once and said to the Phaeacian sea-captains: 

‘Pray silence, my noble and honourable lords. And let the 
music of Demodocus’ lyre be stilled, for it appears that the 
theme of his song is not to everybody’s liking. Since we have 
been sitting at supper and our worthy minstrel struck up, our 
guest here has been weeping bitterly without a pause. Some 
poignant sorrow must have overwhelmed his feelings. Let the 
bard stop playing, so that we can all be merry, hosts and guest 
alike. How much pleasanter that would be! For it was on ac¬ 
count of our worthy guest that all this has been arranged, this 
farewell banquet and these friendly gifts that show the warmth 
of our hearts. To any man with the slightest claim to common 
sense, a stranger and suppliant is as good as a brother. 

‘And now, sir, I beg you to be equally friendly, and not, for 
some subtle purpose, to withhold the answers to the questions 
I may ask. ’Twould be more courteous on your part to be 
frank. Tell me the name by which you were known at home 
to your mother and father and your friends in the town and 
country round. No one, after all, whether of low or high de¬ 
gree, goes nameless once he has come into the world; every¬ 
body is named by his parents the moment he is bom. You must 
also tell me where you come from, to what state and to what 
city you belong, so that my ships as they convey you there may 
plan the right course in their minds. For the Phaeacians have no 
steersmen, nor steering-oars such as other craft possess. Our 
ships know by instinct what their crews are thinking and pro¬ 
pose to do. They know every city, every fertile land, and 
hidden in mist and cloud they make their swift passage over 
the sea’s immensities with no fear of damage and no thought of 
wreck. At the same time, I must tell you of a warning I had 
from my father Nausithous, who used to say that Poseidon 
grudged us our privilege of giving safe-conduct to all comers. 
He prophesied that some day the god would wreck one of our 




well-found vessels out on the misty sea as she came home from 
a convoy, and would overshadow our city with a great moun¬ 
tain-wall. That is what the old king used to say; and the god 
may do it, or may let things be. It is for him to decide at his 

‘And now I call upon you for a true account ofyour wander¬ 
ings. To what parts of the inhabited world did they take you? 
What lovely cities did you see; what people in them? Did you 
meet hostile tribes and lawless savages, or did you fall in with 
some friendly and god-fearing folk? Explain to us also what 
secret sorrow makes you weep as you listen to the tragic story 
of the Argives and the fall of Troy. Were not the gods respon¬ 
sible for that, weaving catastrophe into the pattern of events to 
make a song for future generations? Perhaps one of your kins¬ 
men by marriage fell before Ilium, a good man, your son-in- 
law possibly or your wife’s father, to mention those nearest 
after one’s own blood and stock? Or perhaps it was a comrade, 
some true friend who knew his way to your heart? For a sym¬ 
pathetic friend can be quite as dear as a brother.’ 



In answer to the King, this is how Odysseus, the man of many 
resources, began his tale* 

‘Lord Alcmous, my most worshipful prince, it is mdeed a 
lovely thing to hear a bard such as yours, with a voice like the 
gods’ I myself feel that there is nothing more delightful than 
when the festive mood reigns m a whole people’s hearts and 
the banqueters listen to a minstrel from their seats in the hall, 
while the tables before them are laden with bread and meat, 
and a steward carries round the wine he has drawn from the 
bowl and fills their cups This, to my way of thinking, is some¬ 
thing very like perfection 

‘You, however, have made up your mind to probe mto my 
troubles and so to intensify my grief Well, where shall I begm, 
where end, my tale? For the list of woes which the gods m 
heaven have sent me is a long one I had better start by giving 
you my name I wish you all to know it so that m the days to 
come, if I escape the cruel hand of fate, I may be counted as a 
friend of yours, however far away I live 

T am Odysseus, Laertes’ son The whole world talks of my 
stratagems, and my fame has reached the heavens My home is 
under the clear skies of Ithaca Our landmark is the wooded 
peak of wmdswept Nenton For neighbours we have many 
peopled isles with no great space between them, Dulichium 
and Same and wooded Zacynthus But Ithaca, the farthest out 
to sea, lies slanting to the west, whereas the others face the 
dawn and nsmg sun It is a rough land, but a fit nurse of men 
And I, for one, know of no sweeter sight for man’s eyes than 
his own country The divine Calypso certainly did her best to 
keep me yonder in her cavern home because she wished to be 


140 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [ 51 - 

my wife, and with the same object Circe, the Aeaean witch, 
detained me in her castle; but never for a moment did they win 
my heart. So true it is that his motherland and his parents are 
what a man holds sweetest, even though he may have settled 
far away from his people in some rich home in foreign lands. 
However, it is time I told you of the disastrous voyage Zeus 
gave me when I started back from Troy. 

‘The same wind as wafted me from Ilium brought me to 
Ismarus, the city of the Cicones. I sacked this place and de¬ 
stroyed the men who held it. Their wives and the rich plunder 
that we took from the town we divided so that no one, as far 
as I could help it, should go short ofhis proper share. And then 
I said we ought to be off and show a clean pair of heels. But my 
fools of men refused. There was plenty of wine, plenty oflive- 
stock; and they kept on drinking and butchering sheep and 
fatted cattle by the shore. Meanwhile the Cicones went and 
raised a cry for help among other Cicones, their up-country 
neighbours, who are both more numerous and better men, 
trained in fighting from the chariot and on foot as well, as the 
occasion requires. At dawn they were on us, thick as the leaves 
and flowers in their season, and it certainly looked as though 
Zeus meant the worst for my unhappy following and we were 
in for a very bad time. A pitched battle by the ships ensued, and 
volleys of bronze spears were interchanged. Right through the 
early morning and while the blessed light of day grew stronger 
we held our ground and kept their greater force at bay; but 
when the sun began to drop, towards the time when the plough¬ 
man unyokes his ox, the Cicones gained the upper hand and 
broke the Achaean ranks. Six of my warriors from each ship 
were killed. The rest of us contrived to dodge our fate and got 
away alive. 

‘We made off from Ismarus with heavy hearts, for the joy 
we felt at our own reprieve was tempered by grief for our dear 
comrades-in-arms; and I would not let the curved ships sail 
before each of our poor friends who had fallen in action against 
the Cicones had been three times saluted. Zeus, who marshals 




the clouds, now sent my fleet a terrible gale from the north. He 
covered land and sea alike with a canopy of cloud; and dark¬ 
ness swept down on us from the sky. Our ships were driven 
sidelong by the wind, and the force of the gusts tore their sails 
to rags and tatters. With the fear of death upon us, we lowered 
these onto the decks, and rowed the bare ships landward with 
all our might. Thus we lay for two days and two nights on end, 
with exhaustion and anxiety gnawing at our hearts. But on the 
third morning, which a beautiful dawn had ushered in, we 
stepped the masts, hauled up the white sails, and sat down, 
leaving the wind and the helmsmen between them to keep our 
vessels straight. In fact I should have reached my own land safe 
and sound, had not the swell, the current, and the North Wind 
combined, as I was doubling Malea, to drive me off my course 
and send me drifting past Cythera. 

‘For nine days I was chased by those accursed winds across 
the fish-infested seas. But on the tenth we made the country of 
the Lotus-eaters, a race that live on vegetable foods. We dis¬ 
embarked to draw water, and my crews quickly set to on their 
midday meal by the ships. But as soon as we had a mouth¬ 
ful and a drink, I sent some of my followers inland to find out 
what sort of human beings might be there, detailing two men 
for the duty with a third as messenger. Off they went, and it 
was not long before they were in touch with the Lotus-eaters. 
Now it never entered the heads of these natives to kill my 
friends; what they did was to give them some lotus to taste, 
and as soon as each had eaten the honeyed fruit of the plant, all 
thoughts of reporting to us or escaping were banished from his 
mind. All they now wished for was to stay where they were 
with the Lotus-eaters, to browse on the lotus, and to forget that 
they had a home to return to. I had to use force to bring them 
back to the ships, and they wept on the way, but once on board 
I dragged them under the benches and left them in irons. I then 
commanded the rest of my loyal band to embark with all 
speed on their fast ships, for fear that others of them might eat 

the lotus and thin 1r no mr\tv* r T'U^~ ~-1- 1 

14 2 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [ I03 - 

once, went to the benches, sat down in their proper places, and 
struck the white surf with their oars. 

‘So we left that country and sailed on sick at heart. And we 
came to the land of the Cyclopes, a fierce, uncivilized people 
who never lift a hand to plant or plough but put their trust in 
Providence. All the crops they require spring up unsown and 
untilled, wheat and barley and the vines whose generous 
clusters give them wine when ripened for them by the timely 
rains. The Cyclopes have no assemblies for the making of laws, 
nor any settled customs, but live in hollow caverns in the 
mountain heights, where each man is lawgiver to his children 
and his wives, and nobody cares a jot for his neighbours. 

‘Not very far from the harbour on their coast, and not so 
near either, there lies a luxuriant island, covered with woods, 
which is the home of innumerable goats. The goats are wild, 
for man has made no pathways that might frighten them off, 
nor do hunters visit the island with their hounds to rough it in 
the forests and to range the mountain-tops. Used neither for 
grazing nor for ploughing, it lies for ever unsown and untilled; 
and this land where no man goes makes a happy pasture for the 
bleating goats. I must explain that the Cyclopes have nothing 
like our ships with their crimson prows; nor have they any 
shipwrights to build merchantmen that could serve their needs 
by plying to foreign ports in the course of that overseas traffic 
which ships have established between the nations. Such crafts- 
men would have turned the island into a fine colony for the 
Cyclopes. For it is by no means a poor country, but capable of 
yielding any crop in due season. Along the shore of the grey sea 
there are soft water-meadows where the vine would never 
wither; and there is plenty ofland level enough for the plough, 
where they could count on cutting a deep crop at every harvest- 
time, for the soil below the surface is exceedingly rich. Also it 
has a safe harbour, in which there is no occasion to tie up at all. 
You need neither cast anchor nor make fast with hawsers: all 
your crew have to do is to beach their boat and wait till the 
spirit moves them and the right wind blows. Finally, at the head 


- 174 ] 


of the harbour there is a stream of fresh water, running out of a 
cave in a grove of poplar-trees. 

4 This is where we came to land. Some god must have guided 
us through the murky night, for it was impossible to see ahead. 
The ships were in a thick fog, and overhead not a gleam oflight 
came through from the moon, which was obscured by clouds. 
In these circumstances not a man among us caught sight of the 
island nor did we even see the long rollers beating up to the 
coast, before our good ships ran aground. It was not till they 
were beached that we lowered sail. We thenjumped out on the 
shore, fell asleep where we were and so waited for the blessed 
light of day. 

‘ When the fresh Dawn came and with her crimson streamers 
lit the sky, we were delighted with what we saw of the island 
and set out to explore it. Presently, in order that my company 
might have something to eat, the Nymphs, those Children of 
Zeus, set the mountain goats on the move. Directly we saw 
them we fetched our curved bows and our long spears from the 
ships, separated into three parties, and let fly at the game; and in 
a short time Providence had sent us a satisfactory bag. There 
were twelve ships in my squadron: nine goats fell to each, while 
to me they made a special allotment of ten. So the whole day 
long till the sun set we sat and enjoyed this rich supply of meat, 
which we washed down by mellow wine, since the ships had 
not yet run dry of our red vintage. There was still some in the 
holds, for when we took the sacred citadel of the Cicones, every 
member of the company had drawn off a generous supply in 
jars. There we sat, and as we looked across at the neighbouring 
land of the Cyclopes, we could not only see the smoke from 
their fires but hear their voices and the bleating of their sheep 
and goats. The sun went down, night fell, and we slept on the 

4 With the first rosy light ofDawn, I assembled my company 
and gave them their orders. “My good friends,” I said, “for the 
time being I want you to stay here, while I go in my own ship 
with my own crew to find out what kind of men are over there. 




and whether they are brutal and lawless savages or hospitable 
and god-fearing people.” 

‘Then I climbed into my ship and told my men to follow me 
and loose the hawsers. They came on board at once, went to the 
benches, sat down in their places and churned the grey water 
with their oars. It was no great distance to the mainland coast. 
As we approached its nearest point, we made out a cave there, 
close to the sea, was a high entrance overhung by laurels. Here 
large flocks of sheep and goats were penned at night, and round 
the mouth a yard had been built with a great wall of stones 
bedded deep between tall pines and high-branched oaks. It was 
the den of a giant, the lonely shepherd of sequestered flocks, 
who had no truck with others of his kind but lived aloof in his 
own lawless way. And what a formidable monster he was! No 
one would have taken him for a man who ate bread like our¬ 
selves ; he reminded one rather ofsome wooded peak in the high 
hills, lifting itself in solitary state. 

‘At this point, I told the rest of my loyal following to stay 
there on guard by the ship while I myself picked out the twelve 
best men in the company and advanced. I took with me in a 
goatskin some dark and mellow wine which had been given to 
me by Maron son ofEuanthes, the priest of Apollo (who was 
patron-deity oflsmarus), because we had protected him and his 
child and wife out of respect for his ofEce, when we came upon 
his home in a grove of trees sacred to Phoebus Apollo. This man 
made me some fine presents: he gave me seven talents of 
wrought gold, with a mixing-bowl of solid silver, and he drew 
off for me as well a full dozen jars of mellow unmixed wine. 
And a wonderful drink it was. It had been kept secret from all 
his serving-men and maids, in fact from everyone in the house 
but himself, his good wife, and a single stewardess. When they 
drank this red and honeyed vintage, he used to pour one cupful 
of wine into twenty of water, and the sweet fumes that came up 
from the bowl were irresistible — those were occasions when 
abstinence could have no charms. 

‘Well, I filled a big bottle with this wine and took some food 




in a wallet along with me also, for I had an mstant foreboding, 
though I am no coward, that we were gomg to find ourselves 
face to face with some bemg of colossal strength and ferocity, to 
whom the law of man and god meant nothing It took us very 
little time to reach the cave, but we did not find its owner at 
home he was tending his fat sheep m the pastures So we went 
inside and had a good look round There were baskets laden 
with cheeses, and the folds were thronged with lambs and kids, 
each class, the firstlings, the summer lambs, and the little ones, 
bemg separately penned All his well-made vessels, the pails and 
bowls he used for milking, were swimming with whey 
‘ Now my men’s idea was first to make off with some of the 
cheeses, then come back, drive the kids and lambs quickly out 
of the pens down to the good ship, and so set sail across the salt 
water They pleaded with me, but though it would have been 
far better so, I was not to be persuaded I wished to see the owner 
of the cave and had hopes of some friendly gifts from my host 
As things fell out, my company were to have an unpleasant sur¬ 
prise when he did put in an appearance 

4 We lit a fire, killed a beast and made offerings, took some 
cheeses just for ourselves, and when we had eaten, sat down m 
the cave to await his arrival At last he came up, shepherding his 
flocks and carrying a huge bundle of dry wood to burn at 
supper-time With a great dm he cast this down inside the 
cavern, givmg us such a fright that we hastily retreated to an 
inner recess Meanwhile he drove his fat sheep into the wider 
part of the cave -1 mean all the ewes that he milked the rams 
and he-goats he left out of doors m the walled yard He then 
picked up a huge stone, with which he closed the entrance It 
was a mighty slab, such as you couldn’t have budged from the 
ground, not with a score of heavy four-wheeled waggons to 
help you That will give you some idea of the monstrous size of 
the rock with which he closed the cave Next he sat down to 
milk his ewes and bleating goats, which he did methodically, 
putting her young to each mother as he finished He then 
curdled half the white milk, gathered it all up, and stored it in 

146 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [248- 

wicker baskets; the remainder he left standing in pails, so that it 
would be handy at supper-time and when he wanted a drink. 
When he had done with his business and finished all hisjobs, he 
lit up the fire, spied us, and began asking questions. 

4 “Strangers!” he said. “And who may you be? Where do 
you hail from over the highways of the sea? Is yours a trading 
venture; or are you cruising the main on chance, like roving 
pirates, who risk their lives to ruin other people?” 

4 Our hearts sank within us. The booming voice and the very 
sight of the monster filled us with panic. Still, I managed to find 
words to answer him. 

4 “We are Achaeans,” I said, “on our way back from Troy, 
driven astray by contrary winds across a vast expanse of sea. Far 
from planning to come here, we meant to sail straight home; 
but we lost our bearings, as Zeus, I suppose, intended that we 
should. We are proud to belong to the forces of Agamemnon, 
Aureus’ son, who by sacking the great city ofllium and destroy¬ 
ing all its armies has made himself the most famous man in the 
world today. We, less fortunate, are visiting you here as sup¬ 
pliants, in the hope that you may giye us friendly entertainment 
or even go further in your generosity. You know the laws of 
hospitality: I beseech you, good sir, to remember your duty to 
the gods. For we throw ourselves on your mercy; and Zeus is 
there to avenge the suppliant and the guest. He is the travellers’ 
god: he guards their steps and he invites them with their rights.” 

‘So said I, and promptly he answered me out of his pitiless 
heart: 44 Stranger, you must be a fool, or must have come from 
very far afield, to preach to me of fear or reverence for the gods. 
We Cyclopes care not a jot for Zeus with his aegis, nor for the 
rest of the blessed gods, since we are much stronger than they. 
It would never occur to me to spare you or your men against my 
will for fear of trouble from Zeus. But tell me where you 
moored your good ship when you came. Was it somewhere up 
the coast, or near by? I should like to see her.” 

‘He was trying to get the better of me, but I knew enough of 
the world to see through him and I met him with deceit. 




* ‘‘As for my ship,” I answered, 4 ‘it was wrecked by the Earth- 
shaker Poseidon on the confines of your land. The wind had 
carried us onto a lee shore. He drove the ship up to a headland 
and hurtled it on the rocks. But I and my friends here managed 
to escape with our lives.” 

‘ To this the cruel brute made no reply. Instead, hejumped up, 
and reaching out towards my men, seized a couple and dashed 
their heads against the floor as though they had been puppies. 
Their brains ran out on the ground and soaked the earth. Limb 
by limb he tore them to pieces to make his meal, which he de¬ 
voured like a mountain lion, never pausing till entrails and flesh, 
marrow and bones, were all consumed, while we could do no¬ 
thing but weep and lift up our hands to Zeus in horror at the 
ghastly sight, paralysed by our sense of utter helplessness. When 
the Cyclops had filled his great belly with this meal of human 
flesh, which he washed down with unwatered milk, he 
stretched himself out for sleep among his flocks inside the cave. 
And now my manhood prompted me to action: I thought I 
would draw my sharp sword from the scabbard at my side, 
creep up to him, feel for the right place with my hand and stab 
him in the breast where the liver is supported by the midriff. But 
on seconds thoughts I refrained, realizing that we should have 
perished there as surely as the Cyclops, for we should have found 
it impossible with our unaided hands to push aside the huge rock 
with which he had closed the great mouth of the cave. So for the 
time being we just sat groaning there and waited for the blessed 
light of day. 

4 No sooner had the tender Dawn shown her roses in the East, 
than the Cyclops lit up the fire and milked his splendid ewes, all 
in their proper order, putting her young to each. This business 
over and his morning labours done, he once more snatched up a 
couple of my men and prepared his meal. When he had eaten, 
he turned his fatted sheep out of the cave, removing the great 
doorstone without an effort. But he replaced it immediately, as 
easily as though he were putting the lid on a quiver. Then, with 
many a whisde, he drove his rich flocks off towards the high 

148 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [316- 

pasture, while I was left, with murder in my heart, beating about 
for some scheme by which I might pay him back if only Athene 
would grant me my prayer. The best plan I could think of was 
this. Lying by the pen, the Cyclops had a huge staff of green 
olive-wood, which he had cut to carry in his hand when it was 
seasoned. To us it looked more like the mast of some black ship 
of twenty oars, a broad-bottomed freighter such as they use for 
long sea voyages. That was the impression which its length and 
thickness made on us. On this piece of timber I set to work and 
cut off a fathom’s length, which I handed over to my men and 
told them to smooth down. When they had dressed it, I took a 
hand and sharpened it to a point. Then I poked it into the blaz¬ 
ing fire to make it hard, and finally I laid it carefully by, hiding 
it under the dung, of which there were heaps scattered in pro¬ 
fusion throughout the cave. 1 then told my company to cast lots 
among themselves for the dangerous task of helping me to lift 
the pole and twist it in the Cyclops* eye when he was sound 
asleep. The lot fell on the very men that I myself should have 
chosen, four of them, so that counting myself we made a party 
of five. 

‘Evening came, and with it the Cyclops, shepherding his 
woolly sheep, every one of which he herded into the broad part 
of the cave, leaving none out in the walled yard, either because 
he suspected something or because a god had warned him. He 
raised the great doorstone, set it in its place, and then sat down to 
milk his ewes and bleating goats, which he did in an orderly 
way, giving each mother its young one in due course. When this 
business was over and his work finished, he once more seized 
upon two of us and prepared his supper. Then came my chance. 
With an ivy-wood bowl of my dark wine in my hands, I went 
up to him and said: “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to wash 
down that meal ofhuman flesh, and find out for yourself what 
kind of vintage was stored away in our ship’s hold. I brought 
it for you by way of an offering in the hope that you would be 
charitable and help me on my homeward way. But your sav¬ 
agery is more than we can bear. Cruel monster, how can you 

-384] THE CYCLOPS 149 

expect ever to have a visitor again from the world of men, after 
such deeds as you have done?” 

‘The Cyclops took the wine and drank it up. And the deli¬ 
cious draught gave him such exquisite pleasure that he asked 
me for another bowlful. 

‘ “Be good enough,” he said, “to let me have some more; 
and tell me your name, here and now, so that I may make you a 
gift that you will value. We Cyclopes have wine of our own 
made from the grapes that our rich soil and timely rains produce. 
But this vintage of yours is nectar and ambrosia distilled.” 

‘ So said the Cyclops, and I handed him another bowlful of the 
ruddy wine. Three times I filled up for him; and three times the 
fool drained the bowl to the dregs. At last, when the wine had 
fuddled his wits, I addressed him with disarming suavity. 

‘ “Cyclops,” I said, “you wish to know the name I bear. I’ll 
tell it to you; and in return I should like to have the gift you 
promised me. My name is Nobody. That is what I am called by 
my mother and father and by all my friends.” 

‘The Cyclops answered me with a crueljest. “ Of all his com¬ 
pany I will eat Nobody last, and the rest before him. That shall 
be your gift.” 

‘ He had hardly spoken before he toppled over and fell face up¬ 
wards on the floor, where he lay with his great neck twisted to 
one side, conquered, as all men are, by sleep. His drunkenness 
made him vomit, and a stream of wine mixed with morsels of 
men’s flesh poured from his throat. I went at once and thrust our 
pole deep under the ashes of the fire to make it hot, and mean¬ 
while gave a word of encouragement to all my men, to make 
sure that no one should play the coward and leave me in the 
lurch. When the fierce glow from the olive stake warned me 
that it was abput to catch alight in the flames, green as it was, I 
withdrew it from the fire and brought it over to the spot where 
my men were standing ready. Heaven now inspired them with 
a reckless courage. Seizing the olive pole, they drove its sharp¬ 
ened end into the Cyclop’s eye, while I used my weight from 
above to twist it home, like a man boring a ship’s timber with a 



[3 85- 

drill which his mates below him twirl with a strap they hold at 
either end, so that it spins continuously. In much the same way 
we handled our pole with its red-hot point and twisted it in his 
eye till the blood boiled up round the burning wood. The fiery 
smoke from the blazing eyeball singed his lids and brow all 
round, and the very roots of his eye crackled in the heat. I was 
reminded of the loud hiss that comes from a great axe or adze 
when a smith plunges it into cold water - to temper it and give 
strength to the iron. That is how the Cyclops’ eye hissed round 
the olive stake. He gave a dreadful shriek, which echoed round 
the rocky walls, and we backed away from him in terror, while 
he pulled the stake from his eye, streaming with blood. Then he 
hurled it away from him with frenzied hands and raised a great 
shout for the other Cyclopes who lived in neighbouring caves 
along the windy heights. These, hearing his screams, came up 
from every quarter, and gathering outside the cave asked him 
what ailed him ; 

What on earth is wrong with you, Polyphemus? Why 
must you disturb the peaceful night and spoil our sleep with all 
this shouting? Isarobber driving off your sheep, oris somebody 
trying by treachery or violence to kill you?” 

Out of the,cave came Polyphemus’ great voice in reply;" O 

my friends, it s Nobody’s treachery, no violence, that is doing 
me to death. s 

We}l then,” they answered, in a way that settled the 
matter, if nobody is assaulting you in your solitude, you must 
be sick. Sickness comes from almighty Zeus and cannot be 

Poseidon ^ ^ ^ t0 pfay C ° y0ur ^ at ^ er > Lord 

And offthey went, while I chuckled to myself at the way in 
which my happy notion of a false name had taken them in. The 

]l Zj° pS ’ , Stl ’Tff S m a S onies of P ain > g r °ped about with his 
hands and pushed the rock away from the mouth of the cave. 

But then he sat himself down in the doorway and stretched out 
both arms in the hope of catching us in the act of slipping out 
ong the sheep. What a fool he must have thought me! Mean- 




while I was cudgelling my brains for the best possible course, 
trying to hit on some way of saving my friends as well as my 
own skin. Plan after plan, dodge after dodge, passed through 
my mind. It was a matter of life or death: we were in mortal 
peril. And this was the scheme I eventually chose. There were in 
the flock some well-bred, thick-fleeced rams, fine, big animals 
in their coats ofblack wool. These I quietly lashed together with 
the plaited withes which the savage monster used for his bed. 
I took them in threes. The middle one in each case was to carry 
one of my followers, while its fellows went on either side to pro¬ 
tect him. Each of my men thus had three sheep to bear him. But 
for myself I chose a full-grown ram who was the pick of the 
whole flock. Seizing him by the back, I curled myself up under 
his shaggy belly and lay there upside down, with a firm grip on 
his wonderful fleece and with patience in my heart. Thus in fear 
and trembling we waited for the blessed Dawn. 

‘As soon as she arrived and flecked the East with red, the rams 
of the flock began to scramble out and make for the pastures, 
but the ewes, unmilked as they were and with udders full to 
bursting, stood bleating by the pens. Their master, though he 
was worn out by the agonies he had gone through, passed his 
hands along the backs of all the animals as they came to a stand 
before him; but the idiot never noticed that my men were tied 
up under the breasts of his own woolly sheep. The last of the 
flock to come up to the doorway was the big ram, burdened 
by his own fleece and by me with my teeming brain. As he 
felt him with his hands the great Polyphemus broke into 

Sweet ram,” he said, “what does this mean? Why are you 
:he last of the flock to pass out of the cave, you who have never 
agged behind* the sheep, you who always step so proudly out 
ind are the first of them to crop the lush shoots of the grass, first 
o make your way to the flowing stream, and first to turn your 
lead homewards to the sheepfold when the evening falls? Yet 
oday you are the last of all. Are you grieved for your master’s 
ye, blinded by a wicked man and his accursed friends, when he 

152 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [454- 

had robbed me of my wits with wine? Nobody was his name; 
and I swear that he has not yet saved his skin! Ah, if only you 
could feel as I do and find a voice to tell me where he’s hiding 
from my fury! Wouldn’t I hammer him and splash his brains all 
over the floor of the cave, till that miserable Nobody had eased 
my heart of the suffering I owe to him!” 

‘ So he passed the ram out; and when we had put a little dis¬ 
tance between ourselves and the courtyard of the cave, I first 
freed myself from under my ram and next untied my men from 
theirs. Then, quickly, though with many a backward look, we 
drove our long-legged sheep right down to the ship - and a rich, 
fat flock they made. My dear companions were overj oyed when 
they caught sight of us survivors, though their relief soon 
changed to lamentation for their slaughtered friends. I would 
have none of this weeping, however, and with a nod made clear 
my will to each, bidding them make haste instead to tumble all 
the fleecy sheep on board and put to sea. So in they jumped, ran 
to the benches, sorted themselves out, and plied the grey water 
with their oars. 

‘But before we were out of earshot, I let Polyphemus have a 
piece of my mind. “ Cyclops! ” I called. “ So he was not such a 
weakling after all, the man whose friends you meant to over¬ 
power and eat in that snug cave of yours! And your crimes came 
home to roost, you brute, who have not even the decency to 
refrain from devouring your own guests. Now Zeus and all his 
fellow-gods have paid you out.” 

‘My taunts so exasperated the angry Cyclops that he tore the 
top off a great pinnacle of rock and hurled it at us. The rock fell 
just ahead of our blue-painted bows. As it plunged in, the water 
rose and the backwash, like a swell from the open sea, swept us 
landward and nearly drove us on the beach. Seizing a long pole, 

I succeeded in punting her off, at the same time rousing my crew 
with urgent nods to dash in with their oars and save us from 
disaster. They buckled to and rowed with a will; but when they 
had brought us across the water to twice our previous distance 
I was for giving the Cyclops some more of my talk, though 




from all parts of the ship my men’s voices were raised in gentle 

4 “Aren’t you rash, sir,” they said, “to provoke this savage? 
The rock he threw into the sea just now drove the ship back to 
the land, and we thought we were done for then and there. Had 
he heard a cry, or so much as a word, from a single man, he’d 
have smashed in our heads and the ship’s timbers with another 
jagged boulder from his hand. You have seen how he can 

4 But all this went for nothing with me. My spirit was up, and 
in my rage I called to him once more: 

4 “Cyclops, if anyone ever asks you how you came by your 
unsightly blindness, tell him your eye was put out by Odysseus, 
Sacker of Cities, the son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.” 

‘The Cyclops gave a groan. “Alas!” he cried. “So the old 
prophecy has come home to me with a vengeance! We had a 
prophet with us once, a fine, upstanding man, Telemus son of 
Eurymus, who excellent seer and grew old among us in 
the practice of his art. All that has now happened he foretold, 
when he warned me that a man called Odysseus would rob me 
of my sight. But I always expected some big and handsome 
fellow of tremendous strength to come along. And now, a puny, 
good for nothing, little runt fuddles me with wine and then puts 
out my eye! But come here, Odysseus, so that I may make you 
some friendly gifts and prevail on the great Earthshaker to see 
you safely home. For I am his son, and he is not ashamed to call 
himself my father. He is the one who will heal me ifhe’s willing 
- a thing no other blessed god nor any man on earth could do.” 

‘To which I shouted in reply: “I only wish I could make as 
sure of robbing you oflife and breath and sending you to Hell, 
as I am certain that not even the Earthshaker will ever heal your 

‘At this the Cyclops lifted up his hands to the heavens that 
hold the stars and prayed to the Lord Poseidon: “Hear me, 
Poseidon, Girdler ofEarth, god of the sable locks. If I am yours 
indeed and you accept me as your son, grant that Odysseus, who 

154 ODYSSEY • BOOK IX [ 531 - 

styles himself Sacker of Cities and son of Laertes, may never 
reach his home in Ithaca. But if he is destined to reach his native 
land, to come once more to his own house and see his friends 
again, let him come late, in evil plight, with all his comrades 
dead, and when he is landed, by a foreign ship, let him find 
trouble in his home.” 

4 So Polyphemus prayed; and the god of the sable locks heard 
his prayer. Then once again the Cyclops picked a boulder up - 
bigger by far, this time - and hurled it with a swing, putting 
such boundless force into his throw that the rock fell only just 
astern of our blue-painted ship, missing the end of the steering- 
oar by inches. The water heaved up as it plunged into the sea; 
but the wave that it raised carried us on toward the farther 
shore. And so we reached our island, where the rest of our good 
ships were awaiting us in a body, while their crews sat round dis¬ 
consolate and kept a constant watch for our return. Once there, 
we beached our ship, jumped out on the shore, and unloaded 
the Cyclops’ sheep from the hold. We then divided our spoil so 
that no one, as far as I could help it, should go short ofhis proper 
share. But my comrades-in-arms did me the special honour, 
when the sheep were distributed, of presenting me with the big 
ram in addition. Him I sacrificed on the beach, burning slices 
from his thighs as an offering to Zeus of the Black Clouds, the 
Son of Cronos, who is lord of us all. But Zeus took no notice of 
my sacrifice; his mind must already have been full of plans for 
the destruction of all my gallant ships and of my trusty band. 

* So the whole day long till sundown we sat and feasted on our 
rich supply of meat washed down by mellow wine. When the 
sun set and darkness fell, we lay down to sleep on the sea-shore. 
But as soon as Dawn first showed her rosy fingers in the East, I 
roused my men and ordered them to get on board and let the 
hawsers go. Climbing in at once, they went to the benches, 
sorted themselves out, and struck the grey water with their oars. 
Thus we left the island and sailed on with heavy hearts, for the 
joy we felt at our escape from death was tempered by grief 
for the dear friends we had lost. 



‘Our next landfall was the floating island of Aeolia, the home 
of Aeolus son of Hippotas, who is a favourite of the immortal 
gods. All round this isle there runs an unbroken wall of bronze, 
and below it the cliffs rise sheer from the sea. Aeolus shares his 
house with his family of twelve, six daughters and six grown-up 
sons; and I must tell you that he has given his daughters to his 
sons in marriage. With their father and their estimable mother 
they spend their days in feasting. Ofluxuries they have a never- 
failing store. All day long the house is fragrant with the roasting 
of meat, and the courtyard echoes to the sounds ofbanqueting 
within. At night they sleep in blankets by their loving wives on 
well-made wooden beds. 

‘ To this domain of theirs and this palatial home we found our 
way. For a whole month Aeolus was my kind host and I was 
able to satisfy his thirst for news by giving him a full account of 
the Argive expedition to Ilium and the Achaeans’ start for home. 
Nor was he less obliging when it came to my turn and I asked 
him whether I might now continue my journey and count on 
his help. He gave it willingly and presented me with a leather 
bag, made from the flayed skin of a full-grown ox, in which he 
had imprisoned the boisterous energies of all the Winds. For 
you must know that Zeus has made him Warden of the Gales, 
with power to lay or rouse them each at will. This pouch he 
stowed in the hold of my ship, securing it tightly with a burn¬ 
ished silver wire so as to prevent the slightest leakage. Then, for 
my present purpose, he called up a breeze from the west to blow 
my ships and their crews across the sea. But his measures were 
doomed to failure, for we came to grief, through our own 
criminal folly. 

‘For the next nine days we sailed on, day and night; and on 
the tenth we were already in sight of our homeland, and had 



[ 30 - 

actually come near enough to see the people tending their fires, 
when I fell fast asleep. I was utterly exhausted, for in my anxiety 
to make a quick run home I had refused to let any of my men 
handle the sheet of my ship and had managed it myself without 
a break. 

4 The crew seized this chance to discuss matters among them¬ 
selves, and word went round that I was bringing home a fortune 
in gold and silver which the generous Aeolus son ofHippotas 
had given me. You can imagine the glances and comments that 
were exchanged: “What a captain we have, welcomed wher¬ 
ever he goes and popular in every port! Back he comes from 
Troy with a splendid haul of plunder, though we who have gone 
every bit as far come home with empty hands - and what must 
Aeolus do but give him all this into the bargain, just forfriend- 
ship’s sake! Come on; let’s find out all about it and see what gold 
and silver is hidden in that bag.” 

A few speeches in this vein - and evil counsels carried the day. 
They undid the bag, the Winds all rushed out, and in an instant 
the tempest was upon them, carrying them headlong out to sea. 
They had good reason for their tears: Ithaca was vanishing 
astern. As for myself, when I awoke to this, my spirit failed me 
and I had half a mind to jump overboard and drown myself in 
the sea rather than stay alive and quietly accept such a calamity. 
However, I steeled myself to bear it, and covering my head with 
my cloak I lay where I was in the ship. So the whole fleet was 
driven back again to the Aeolian Isle by that accursed storm, and 
in it my repentant crews. 

Once there, we disembarked and watered. The men fell to 
and took a quick meal by the ships. But as soon as we had had 
something to eat and drink I detailed a messenger and one sailor 
to accompany me and set out for the palace of Aeolus, whom 
we found at dinner with his wife and family. We went in and 
sat down on the threshold by the pillars of the door. 

* Our friends were astounded at the sight of us. “Odysseus?” 
they exclaimed. “How do you come to be here? What evil 
power is to blame for this? Surely, when we sent you off, we 




thought of all you could possibly need to get you home to 
Ithaca or to any port you might choose?” 

‘I was utterly downcast. I could only explain that two things 
had combined to bring me to this pass, a rascally crew and a fatal 
sleep. “But my friends,” I went on, won’t you put things right 
for me? You easily could.” 

‘ My humble appeal had no effect. The sons held their tongues. 
Their father answered only to denounce me. “Begone from this 
island instantly!” he cried. “The world holds no greater sinner 
than you, and I am not one to entertain and equip a man detested 
by the blessed gods. Your very presence here is proof of their 
enmity. Be off! ” 

‘Thus he dismissed me from his palace, and all my protests 
went for nothing. We left the island and resumed our journey 
in a state of gloom; and the heart was taken out of my men by 
the wearisome rowing, though it was certainly through our 
own folly that the friendly breeze we had before enjoyed now 
failed us. 

‘For six days we forged ahead, never lying up even at night, 
and on the seventh we came to Telepylus, Lamms’ stronghold in , 
the Laestrygonian land, where shepherds bringing in their flocks 
at night hail and are answered by their fellows driving out at 
dawn. For in this land nightfall and morning tread so closely on 
each other’s heels that a man who could do without sleep might 
earn a double set of wages, one as a neatherd and the other for 
shepherding white flocks of sheep. Here we found an excellent 
harbour, closed in on all sides by an unbroken ring of preci¬ 
pitous cliffs, with two bold headlands facing each other at the 
mouth so as to leave only a narrow channel in between. The cap¬ 
tains of my squadron all steered their craft straight into the cover 
and tied up in the sheltered waters within. They remained close 
together, for it was obvious that the spot was never exposed to 
a heavy or even a moderate sea, and the weather outside was 
bright and calm. But I did not follow them. Instead I brought 
my ship to rest outside the cove and made her fast with a cable to 
a rock at the end of the point. I then climbed the headland to get 

158 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [98™ 

a view from the top, and took my bearings. No ploughed fields 
or other signs of human activities were to be seen: all we caught 
sight of was a wisp of smoke rising up from the countryside. So 
I sent a party inland to find out what sort of people the in¬ 
habitants were, for which duty I detailed two of my sailors, 
together with a messenger. 

‘When they had left the ships they found a well-worn track 
which had been used by waggons bringing timber down from 
the high mountains to the settlement. Presently they fell in with 
a girl who was drawing water outside the village and for this 
purpose had come down to a bubbling spring called Artacie, 
which supplied the place. This strapping young woman proved 
to be the daughter ofAntiphates, the Laestrygonian chief. When 
they went up and asked her who was the ruler of the country 
and what his people were called, she pointed at once to the high 
roof of her fathers dwelling. So they made their way to his 
house, and had no sooner gone in than they were confronted by 
Antiphates* wife, a creature of mountainous proportions, one 
glance at whom was enough to fill them with horror. The 
woman rushed off to the market-place to call her husband, Anti- 
phates himself. And he gave my men a murderous reception, 
pouncing on one of them at once with a view to eating him for 
supper. The other two beat a hasty retreat and managed to make 
their way to the ships. Meanwhile Antiphates raised a hue and 
cry through the place, which brought the Laestrygonians run¬ 
ning up from every side in their thousands - huge fellows, more 
like giants than men. Standing at the top of the cliffs they began 
pelting my flotilla with lumps of rock such as a man could barely 
lift; and the din that now rose from the ships, where the groans 
of dying men could be heard above the splintering of timbers, 
was appalling. One by one they harpooned their prey like fish 
and so carried them off to make their loathsome meal. But while 
this massacre was still going on in the depths of the cover, I drew 
my sword from my hip, slashed through the hawser of my 
vessel, and yelled to the crew to dash in with their oars if they 
wished to save their skins. With the fear of death upon them 




they struck the water like one man, and with a sigh of relief we 
shot out to sea and left those frowning cliffs behind. My ship 
was safe. But that was the end of all the rest. 

‘We travelled on in utter dejection, thankful to have escaped 
alive, but grieving for the good comrades we had lost. In due 
course we came to the island ofAeaea, the home of the beautiful 
Circe, a formidable goddess, though her voice is like a woman’s. 
She is the sister of the wizard Aeetes, both being children of the 
Sun who lights the world, by the same mother, Perse the 
Daughter of Ocean. We approached the coast of this island and 
brought our ship into the shelter of the haven without making a 
sound. Some god must have guided us in. And when we had 
disembarked, for two whole days and nights we lay on the 
beach, suffering not only from exhaustion but from the horrors 
we had been through. The third day was heralded by a lovely 
Dawn. When the sunjwas up I took my spear and sword, slipped 
away from the ship, and struck inland, making for a coign of 
vantage from which I might look out for signs of human in¬ 
dustry or hear men’s voices. I climbed a rocky height which 
promised a wide view, and on reaching the top I was able to see 
the smoke rising from the distant spot where Circe’s house lay 
screened by the dense oak-scrub and forest trees. That glimpse I 
had of ruddy smoke left me in two minds whether or not to 
press forward and reconnoitre. After some hesitation I thought 
the better course would be to return first to my ship on the 
beach, give my men a meal, and send out an exploring party. 
And here some god must have been moved to pity by my for¬ 
lorn condition. For when I had almost got back to the ship, I fell 
in with a great antlered stag, right across my path. The fierce 
heat of the sun had brought him down from the forest pastures 
to drink at a stream, and as he came up from the water I caught 
him on the spine half-way down his back. The bronze point of 
my spear went right through him, and with a groan he fell in 
the dust and was dead. With one foot on his carcass I dragged 
the spear out of the wound, laid it on the ground, and left it there 
while I plucked myself some withes and willow-twigs, which I 

l 60 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [167- 

twisted into a fathom’s length of rope carefully plaited from 
end to end. With this I tied his feet together, and since he was far 
too big for me to carry on one shoulder and steady with a single 
hand, I slung the great beast round my neck, and using my spear 
as a staffl set off for my ship. When I reached it, I threw the stag 
down by the hull, made the round of all my men, and roused 
them with the cheerful news. 

‘ “My friends,” I said, “we may be miserable, but we are not 
going down below just yet, not till our time has come. Up you 
get, and while there’s food and drink on board, let us have some¬ 
thing to eat instead of dying here of starvation.” 

‘This was a hint they took readily enough. All heads were at 
once unmuffled, and there on the desolate sea-beach they saw 
the stag. They had good reason to stare; for he really was a 
monster. When they had feasted their eyes on the sight they 
washed their hands and prepared a glorious meal. So the whole 
day long till sundown we sat and banqueted on our rich supply 
of meat washed down by mellow wine. When the sun set and 
darkness fell, we lay down for sleep on the sea-shore. But as soon 
as Dawn had flecked the sky with red, I gathered my men round 
me and made them a speech. 

‘ “My friends,” I said, “East and West mean nothing to us 
here. Where the Sun is rising from when he comes to light the 
world, and where he is sinking, we do not know. So the sooner 
we decide on a sensible plan the better - if one can still be found 
(which I doubt). For when I climbed a crag to reconnoitre I 
found that this is an island, and for the most part low-lying, as 
all round it in a ring I saw the sea stretching away to the horizon. 
What I did catch sight of, right in the middle, through dense 
oak-scrub and forest, was a wisp of smoke.” 

‘When they heard my report they broke down completely. 
They could not help remembering what Antiphates the Laestry- 
gonian had done, and the unbridled savagery of the man-eating 
Cyclops. They burst into sobs and the tears streamed down their 
cheeks. But they might have spared themselves their lamenta¬ 
tions for all the good they did. 




4 In the end I numbered them off into two well-armed parties 
with a commander for each. Of one, I myself took charge; the 
other I gave to an officer of noble birth called Eurylochus; and 
without more ado we shook lots in a bronze helmet. Out came 
the gallant Eurylochus’ lot, and so he went off with his two-and- 
twenty men, a tearful company, leaving us, who stayed behind, 
in no better case. In due course they came upon Circe’s house, 
which was built of dressed stone and stood in the middle of a 
clearing in a forest dell. Prowling about the place were moun¬ 
tain wolves and lions, actually the drugged victims of Circe’s 
magic, for they not only refrained from attacking my men, but 
rose on their hind legs to caress them, with much wagging of 
their long tails, like dogs fawning on their master, as he comes 
from table, for the tasty bits they know he always brings. But 
these were wolves and lions with great claws that were gam¬ 
bolling in this way round my men. Terrified at the sight of the 
formidable beasts, they shrank away and took refuge in the 
porch of the fair goddess’ castle. From there they could hear 
Circe within, singing in her beautiful voice as she went to and 
fro at her great and everlasting loom, on which she was weaving 
one of those delicate, graceful, and dazzling fabrics that god¬ 
desses love to make. 

‘ Polites, one of my captains and the man in my party whom I 
liked and trusted most, now took the lead. “Friends,” he said, 
“there is someone in the castle working at a loom. The whole 
place echoes to that lovely voice. It’s either a goddess or a 
woman. Let us waste no more time, but give her a shout.” 

‘ So they shouted to attract attention, and the next moment 
Circe came out, opened the polished doors, and invited them to 
enter. In their innocence, the whole party except Eurylochus 
followed her in. But he suspected a trap and stayed outside. 
Circe ushered the rest into her hall, gave them settles and chairs 
to sit on, and then prepared them a mixture of cheese, barley- 
meal, and yellow honey flavoured with Pramnian wine. But 
into this dish she introduced a powerful drug, to make them 
lose all memory of their native land. And when they had 

162 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [237- 

emptied the bowls in which she had served them, she struck 
them with her wand, drove them off, and penned them in the 
pigsties. For now to all appearance they were swine: they had 
pigs’ heads and bristles, and they grunted like pigs; but their 
minds were as human as they had been before the change. In¬ 
deed, they shed tears in their sties. But Circe flung them some 
mast, acorns, and cornel-berries, and left them to eat this pigs’ 
fodder and wallow in the mud. 

‘Meanwhile Eurylochus came back to the good black ship to 
report the catastrophe his party had met with. He was in such 
anguish that for all his eagerness to tell us he could utter not a 
single word; his eyes were filled with tears, and the rising sobs 
stuck in his throat. Aghast at the sight, we all bombarded him 
with questions, till at length the story ofhis comrades’ fate came 

‘ “My lord Odysseus,” he said, “we followed your orders. 
We made our way through the oaklands and in a clearing in a 
glade we came to a well-built castle of dressed stone. Someone 
was working at a great loom inside and singing in a clear voice— 
either a goddess or a woman. My men gave a shout to attract her 
attention. In a moment she came out, opened the polished doors, 
and invited us in. Not knowing better, the men followed her 
into the house in a-body. But I stayed where I was, for I thought 
it might be a trap. And now the whole party have vanished. Not 
a single man showed up, though I sat there a long time and kept 
a sharp lookout.” 

‘ When I heard this story I slung my bow over my shoulder, 
and my big bronze sword in its silver scabbard, and I told Eury¬ 
lochus to take me back with him by the way he had come. But 
he threw his arms round my knees in supplication and broke 
into a pitiful appeal. 

‘ “My king,” he said, leave me behind and don’t force me to 
go with you there. You will never come back yourself and you 
won’t rescue a man of your crew. I am certain of it. Let us get 
away quickly with those that are left here. We might still save 



I 63 

4 “Very well, Eurylochus,” I replied; “stay where you are, 
and eat and drink by the black ship’s hull. But I shall go. It is 
my plain and bounden duty.” 

‘With this, I turned my back on the ship and the sea, and 
struck inland. But as I was threading my way through the en¬ 
chanted glades that led to the witch’s casde, whom should I fall 
in with but Hermes, god of the golden wand, who came up to 
mejust before I reached the house, looking like a young man at 
that most charming age when the beard first starts to grow. He 
took my hand in his and greeted me amiably. 

‘ “Where are you off to now, my poor fellow,” he said, 
“wandering alone through the wilds in unknown country, with 
your friends there in Circe’s house penned like pigs in their 
crowded sties? I suppose you have come here to free them, 
though I think you are more likely to stay with them yourself 
and never see your home again. However, I am coming to the 
rescue and will see you through. Look; here is a drug of real 
virtue that you must take with you into Circe’s palace to save 
yourself from disaster. But I must explain how she works her 
black magic. She will begin by mixing you a pottage, into which 
she will put her poison. But even with its help she will be unable 
to enchant you, for this antidote that I am going to give you and 
describe will rob it of its power. When Circe strikes you with 
her long wand, you must draw your sword from your side and 
rush at her as though you meant to take her life. She will shrink 
from you in terror and invite you to her bed. Nor must you hesi¬ 
tate to accept the goddess’ favours, if you want her to free your 
men and treat you kindly. But make her swear a solemn oath by 
the blessed gods not to try on you any more of her tricks, or 
when she has you stripped she may rob you of your courage 
and your manhood.” 

‘ Then the Giant-killer handed me a herb he had plucked from 
the ground, and showed me what it was like. It had a black root 
and a milk-white flower. The gods call it Moly, and it is an awk¬ 
ward plant to dig up, at any rate for a mere man. But the gods, 
after all, can do anything. 




4 Hermes went off through the island forest, making for high 
Olympus, while I with a heart oppressed by many dark fore¬ 
bodings pursued my way to Circe’s home, till I found myself at 
the doors of the lovely goddess’ palace. Here I halted and gave a 
shout. Circe heard my call, came out at once, and opening the 
polished doors invited me in. Filled with misgivings, I followed 
her indoors and was asked to sit down on a beautiful chair with 
silver decorations and a stool for my feet, while she prepared 
some pottage in a golden bowl for me to drink and for her own 
evil purposes threw in some poison. When I had taken the bowl 
from her and drained it, but without suffering any magic effects, 
she touched me with her wand and sharply ordered me to be off 
to the pigsties and lie down with my friends. Whereupon I 
snatched my sword from my hip and rushed on Circe as though 
I meant to kill her. But with a shriek she slipped below my blade, 
fell at my knees and burst into tears. 

4 “Who on earth are you?” she asked. “What parents begot, 
what city bred such a man? I am amazed to see you take my 
poison and suffer no magic change. For never before have I 
known a man who could resist that drug once he had taken it 
and swallowed it down. You must have a heart in your breast 
that is proof against all enchantment. I am sure you are Odys¬ 
seus, the man whom nothing defeats, the man whom the Giant- 
slayer with the golden wand always told me to expect here on 
his way back from Troy in his good black ship. But I beg you 
now to put up your sword and come with me to my bed, so that 
in love and sleep we may learn to trust one another.” 

4 44 Circe,” I answered her, “how can you expect me to be 
gentle with you, who have turned my friends into pigs here in 
your house, and now that you have me too in your clutches are 
inveigling me to your bedroom and inviting me to your bed, 
to make a coward and a weakling of me when you have me 
stripped? Nothing, goddess, would induce me to sleep with 
you, unless you can bring yourself to swear a solemn oath that 
you have no other mischief in store for me.” 

4 Circe complied and swore that she had no evil intentions. So 

-386] CIRCE 165 

when she had given me her word with due solemnity, I went 
with the goddess to her beautiful bed. 

‘Meanwhile the four maids who do the housework for Circe 
were busying themselves in the palace. They are the daughters 
of Springs and Groves and the sacred Rivers that flow out into 
the sea. One ofthem threw covers over the chairs and spread fine 
purple rugs on top. Another drew silver tables up to the chairs 
and placed golden baskets upon them; while the third was mix¬ 
ing the sweet and mellow wine in a silver bowl and setting out 
the golden cups; and the fourth fetched water and lit up a great 
fire under the big cauldron so that the water grew warm. 

‘When the bright copper was boiling, she sat me down in a 
bath and washed me with water from the great cauldron mixed 
with cold to a comfortable heat, sluicing my head and shoulders 
till all the painful weariness was gone from my limbs. My bath 
done, she rubbed me with olive oil, clothed me in a tunic and a 
splendid cloak, and conducted me to the hall, where she seated 
me in a beautiful chair with silver decorations and a footstool 
below. Next came another maid with water in a splendid golden 
ewer. She poured it out over a silver basin so that I could rinse 
my hands, and then drew up a polished table to my side. A staid 
housekeeper brought some bread, which she put by me with a 
variety of dainties; and after helping me liberally to all she had 
brought she invited me to fall to. But I had no heart for eating. 

I sat there heedless, engrossed in my cares. 

‘When Circe saw me sitting so quiet and not helping myself 
to the food, she knew that I had some serious trouble on my 
mind. So she faced me and came straight to the point. 

‘ “Odysseus,” she said, “why are you sitting here like this as 
though you were dumb, and feeding on your own thoughts in¬ 
stead of helping yourself to meat and wine? Do you suspect 
another trap? You need have no fears: I have given you my 
solemn word to do you no more harm.” 

‘ “Circe,” I answered her, could any honest man in my posi¬ 
tion bear to taste food and drink before he had freed his men and 
seen them face to face? If you really mean me to eat and drink, 


1 66 


give them their liberty and let me set eyes on my loyal fol¬ 

‘Wand in hand, Circe went straight out of the hall, threw 
open the pigsty gate, and drove them out, looking exactly like 
full-grown swine. And there they stood and faced her. She went 
in among them and smeared them each in turn with some new 
salve she had. Whereupon the brisdes which her first deadly 
potion had made them sprout dropped off their limbs, and they 
not only became men again but looked younger and much 
handsomer and taller than before. They recognized me now, 
and one after the other ran up and seized my hand. We were so 
moved that we all wept for happiness. It was a strange sound for 
those walls to echo. Even the goddess was touched. 

‘ Presently she came up to me and said: “Royal son of Laertes, 
you have shown your infinite resource. Go down now to your 
ship and the sea-shore, drag her straight up onto dry land, stow 
your belongings and all the ship’s tackle in a cave, and then come 
back yourself with the rest of your loyal company.” 

‘ I could not refuse this challenge to my adventurous spirit. So 
offl went to the ship and the sea-shore. I found my good fellows 
by the ship in a woebegone state, with the tears streaming down 
their cheeks. Indeed I was reminded of the scene at a farm when 
a drove of cows come home full-fed from the pastures to the 
yard and are welcomed by all their frisking calves, who burst 
out from the pens to gambol round their mothers and fill the air 
with the sound of their lowing. For my men no sooner caught 
sight of me than they were all round me in a weeping throng. 
They were as deeply moved as if they had reached their home¬ 
land and were standing in the streets of their own town in 
rugged Ithaca, where they were bom and bred. 

‘ “Royal master,” they said between their sobs, “we are as 
happy to see you back as we should be to set foot in our own 
island of Ithaca. But tell us how our comrades met their end.” 

T gave them a cheerful reply. “ Our first business,” I said, “is 
to drag up the ship on dry land and stow our cargo and the tackle 
in a cave. Then you must get ready and all come along with me 




yourselves, if you wish to see your friends eating and drinking in 
Circe’s enchanted palace, where I tell you they have enough to 
last them for ever.” 

‘The rest were quick to fall in with my suggestion. But not 
Eurylochus, who, by infecting them with his fears, did his best 
to keep the whole company back. 

Where are we poor wretches off to now? ” he cried. “Are 
you so keen on trouble that you must seek out the Witch in her 
stronghold, and all be turned into pigs or wolves or lions, and 
forced to keep watch in that great house of hers? We have had 
all this before, with the Cyclops, when our friends found their 
way into his fold with this dare-devil Odysseus for company. It 
was this man’s reckless folly that cost them their lives.” 

‘Now when Eurylochus said that, I had half a mind, though 
he was a close kinsman of my own, to draw the long sword 
from my side and lop his head off to roll in the dust. But I was 
checked by a chorus of remonstrance from my men, who took 
a milder view. 

‘ “Sir,” they said, “it is for you to give the order; but why 
not leave this fellow here by the ship on guard, while we follow 
your lead to Circe’s enchanted castle?” 

‘So we turned our backs on the ship and the sea and struck 
inland. And Eurylochus came with us after all. He was not going 
to be left by the ship, and was afraid of the stinging rebuke I 
might give him. 

‘Circe had been spending the interval in hospitable care for 
the party in her house. She bathed and anointed them with olive- 
oil, and gave them all tunics and warm cloaks to wear, so that on 
our arrival we found them enjoying a comfortable dinner in the 
hall. When the two companies came face to face and each man 
recognized his friends, they burst into tears and the whole house 
echoed to their sobs, till the goddess herself, coming up and ad¬ 
dressing me by my royal titles, appealed to me to check this fit 
of weeping. 

‘ “ I know as well as you,” she said, “ all you have gone through 
on the fish-infested seas and suffered at the hands of savages on 

l68 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [460- 

land. But now I want to see you enjoying your food and putting 
down your wine, till you are once more the men you were when 
first you sailed from your homes in rugged Ithaca. You are 
worn out now and depressed: you cannot forget the bufferings 
you have had. And your sufferings have been so continuous that 
you don t know what it is to have a merry heart.” 

‘My gallant company were not difficult to persuade. In fact 
we stayed on day after day for a whole year, feasting on meat 
galore and mellow wine. But when the year was out, and the 
seasons began to repeat their round, my good friends called me 
aside one day and said reproachfully: “Master, if you are ever 
going to escape and get back to your old home in your own 
country, it’s high time you thought of Ithaca again.” This was 
enough: my proud heart was convinced. 

‘ For the rest of that day till sunset we sat and banqueted on the 
meat and mellow wine that were provided in such abundance. 
When the sun sank and night fell, my men settled down for 
sleep in the darkened hall. But I went to the beautiful bed where 
Circe lay and there clasped the goddess’ knees in prayer, while 
she listened to my eager words: 

‘ “Circe,” I said, “I beseech you to keep that promise which 
you made me once to send me home. I am eager now to be gone, 
and so are all my men. They wear me out and pester me with 
their complaints whenever you are not about.” 

‘ “Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus of the nimble wits,” the 
goddess answered me, “I am not going to keep you in my house 
against your wishes. But before I can send you home you have 
to make ajourney of a very different kind, and find your way to 
the Halls ofHades and Persephone the Dread, to consult the soul 
of Teiresias, the blind Theban prophet, whose understanding 
even death has not impaired. For dead though he is, Persephone 
has left to him, and him alone, a mind to reason with. The rest 
are mere shadows flitting to and fro.” 

‘ This news broke my heart. I sat down on the bed and wept. 
I had no further use for life, no wish to see the sunshine any 
more. But when at last I grew tired of tears and of tossing about 




on the bed, I began to question her: 

4 44 But tell me, Circe, who is to guide me on the way? No 
one has ever sailed a black ship into Hell.” 

4 44 Odysseus/’ the goddess answered me, 44 don’t think of 
lingering on shore for lack of a pilot. Set up your mast, spread 
the white sail and sit down in the ship. The North Wind will 
blow her on her way; and when she has brought you across the 
River of Ocean, you will come to a wild coast and to Perse¬ 
phone’s Grove, where the tall poplars grow and the willows 
that so quickly shed their seeds. Beach your boat there by 
Ocean’s swirling stream and march on into Hades’ Kingdom of 
D ecay. There the River ofFlaming Fire and the River ofLamen- 
tation, which is a branch of the Waters of Styx, unite round a 
pinnacle of rock to pour their thundering streams into Acheron. 
This is the spot, my lord, that I bid you to seek out. Once there, 
dig a trench about a cubit long and a cubit in breadth. Around 
this trench pour offering to all the dead, first with honey mixed 
with milk, then with sweet wine, and last of all with water. Over 
all this sprinkle white barley and then begin your prayers to the 
helpless ghosts of the dead. Promise them that once you are in 
Ithaca you will sacrifice in your palace a barren heifer, the best 
that you have, and will heap the pyre with treasures and make 
Teiresias a separate offering of the finest jet-black sheep to be 
found in your flock. When you have finished your invocations 
to the glorious fellowship of the dead, sacrifice a young ram and 
a black ewe, holding their heads down towards Erebus while 
you turn your own aside, as though about to recross the Paver 
of Ocean. Then the souls of the dead and departed will come up 
in their multitudes and you must bid your men make haste to 
flay the sheep that are lying there slaughtered by your blade, and 
bum them up while they pray to the gods, to mighty Hades and 
august Persephone. Sit still yourself meanwhile, with your 
drawn sword in your hand, and do not let any of the helpless 
ghosts come near the blood till you have had speech with 
Teiresias. Presently the prophet himself will come to you, my 
lord king. And he will lay down for you your journey and the 

170 ODYSSEY • BOOK X [540- 

distances to be covered, and direct you home across the fish¬ 
delighting seas.” 

‘ Circe finished, and soon after the Dawn enthroned herself in 
gold. The Nymph clothed me in my tunic and cloak and dressed 
her self in a long robe of silvery sheen, light in fabric and charm¬ 
ing to the eye. She put a veil on her head, and round her waist 
she fastened a splendid golden belt. Then I walked through the 
palace and made the round of my men, rousing them each with 
a cheerful word. 

‘ “Wake up,” I said, “and bid your pleasant dreams farewell. 
We must be off. My lady Circe has given me our sailing orders.” 

‘ My gallant band made no demur. But not even now did I get 
them all off without a casualty. There was one called Elpenor, 
the youngest of the party, not much of a fighting man nor very 
strong in the head. This young fellow of mine had got drunk, 
and longing for fresh air had left his friends in the enchanted 
palace and gone to sleep by himself. Roused in the morning by 
the bustle and din of the departure, he leapt up suddenly, and 
forgetting to go to the long ladder and take the right way down, 
he toppled headlong from the roof. He broke his neck and his 
soul went down to Hades. 

‘When the rest of the party joined me I took them into my 
confidence. “You no doubt imagine,” I said, “that you are 
bound for home and our beloved Ithaca. But Circe has marked 
out for us a very different route, to the Halls of Hades and 
Persephone the Dread, where we must seek advice of the soul 
of Theban Teiresias.” 

‘When I told them this they were heart-broken. They sat 
down where they were and wept and tore their hair. But they 
might have spared themselves their lamentations for all the 
good they did. 

‘ We made our way to our ship and the beach in a sorry mood 
and with many tears. Meanwhile Circe, after taking leave of us, 
had tethered a young ram and a black ewe by the ship. She had 
slipped past us with ease; and when a god wishes to remain un¬ 
seen, what eye can observe his coming or his going? 



‘Our first task, when we came down to the sea and reached our 
ship, was to run her into the good salt water and put the mast 
and sails on board. We then picked up the sheep we found there 
and stowed them in the vessel. After which we ourselves em¬ 
barked. And a melancholy crew we were. There was not a dry 
cheek in the company. However, Circe of the lovely tresses, 
human though she was in speech, proved her powers as a god¬ 
dess by sending us the friendly escort of a favourable breeze, 
which sprang up from astern and filled the sail of our blue- 
prowed ship. All we had to do, after putting the tackle in order 
fore and aft, was to sit still, while the wind and the helmsman 
kept her straight. With a taut sail she forged ahead all day, till 
the sun went down and left her to pick her way through the 

‘ Thus she brought us to the deep-flowing River of Ocean and 
the frontiers of the world, where the fog-bound Cimmerians 
live in the City ofPerpetual Mist. When the bright Sun climbs 
the sky and puts the stars to flight, no ray from him can pene¬ 
trate to them, nor can he see them as he drops from heaven and 
sinks once more to earth. For dreadful Night has spread her 
mantle over the heads of that unhappy folk. 

‘ Here we beached our boat and after disembarking the sheep 
made our way along the banks of the River of Ocean till we 
reached the spot that Circe had described. There, while Peri- 
medes and Eurylochus caught hold of the victims, I drew my 
sharp sword from my side and dug a trench about a cubit long 
and a cubit wide. Around this trench I poured libations to all 
the dead, first with mingled honey and milk, then with sweet 
wine, and last of all with water. Over all this I sprinkled some 
white barley, and then began my prayers to the helpless ghosts 

172 ODYSSEY • BOOK XI [30- 

of the dead, promising them that directly I got back to Ithaca I 
should sacrifice a barren heifer in my palace, the best I had in my 
possession, and heap the pyre with treasures, and make Teiresias 
a separate offering of the finest jet-black sheep to be found in my 
flocks. When I had finished my prayers and invocations to the 
communities of the dead, I took the sheep and cut their throats 
over the trench so that the dark blood poured in. And now the 
souls of the dead who had gone below came swarming up from 
Erebus - fresh brides, unmarried youths, old men with life’s long 
suffering behind them, tender young girls still nursing this first 
anguish in their hearts, and a great throng of warriors killed in 
battle, their spear-wounds gaping yet and all their armour 
stained with blood. From this multitude of souls, as they flut¬ 
tered to and fro by the trench, there came a moaning that was 
horrible to hear. Panic drained the blood from my cheeks. I 
turned to my comrades and told them quickly to flay the sheep 
I had slaughtered with my sword and bum them, while they 
prayed to the gods, to mighty Hades and august Persephone. 
But I myself sat on guard, bare sword in hand, and prevented 
any of the feckless ghosts from approaching the blood before I 
had speech with Teiresias. 

4 The first soul that came up was that of my own man Elpenor, 
for he had not yet had his burial in the wide bosom of Earth. So 
urgent had we felt our other task to be that we had left his corpse 
unburied and unwept in Circe’s house. Now, when I saw him, 
tears started to my eyes and I was stirred with pity for him. 

4 1 called across to him at once: 44 Elpenor! How did you come 
here, under the western gloom? You have been quicker on foot 
than I in my black ship!” 

4 I heard him sigh, and then his answer came: 44 My royal 
master, Odysseus of the nimble wits, it was the malice of some 
evil power that was my undoing, and all the wine I swilled 
before I went to sleep in Circe’s palace. For I clean forgot to go 
to the long ladder and take the right way down, and so fell head¬ 
long from the roof. My neck was broken and my soul came 
down to Hades. And now, since I know that when you leave 




this kingdom of the dead you will put in with your good ship at 
the Isle of Aeaea, I beseech you, my prince, by all the absent 
friends we left behind, by your wife, by the father who sup¬ 
ported you as a child, and by Telemachus, your only son, whom 
you left at home - by all these I beg you to remember me then 
and not to sail away and forsake me utterly nor leave me there 
unburied and unwept, or the gods may turn against you when 
they see my corpse. So bum me there with all my arms, such as 
they are, and raise a mound for me on the shore of the grey sea, 
in memory of an unlucky man, to mark the spot for future 
voyagers. Do this for me, and on my barrow plant the oar I used 
to pull when I was alive and on the benches with my mates/’ 

‘ To which I answered: “All this, my poor Elpenor, I will do. 
Nothing shall be forgotten.” 

‘ Thus we two faced each other across the trench in solemn 
colloquy, I on the one side, with my sword stretched out above 
the blood, and on the other the ghost of my comrade pouring 
out his tale. 

‘Next came the soul of my dead mother, Anticleia, the 
daughter of the great Autolycus, who had still been alive when 
I said farewell and sailed for sacred Ilium. My eyes filled with 
tears when I saw her there, and I was stirred to compassion. Yet, 
deeply moved though I was, I would not allow her to approach 
the blood out of turn, before I had had speech with Teiresias. 
And the soul of the Theban prophet no w came up, with a gold 
rod in his hand, saw who I was, and saluted me. 

‘ “Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus of the nimble wits, what 
has brought you, the man of misfortune, to forsake the sunlight 
and to visit the dead in this mirthless place? Step back now from 
the trench and hold your sword aside, so that I can drink the 
blood and prophesy the truth to you.” 

* I backed away, driving my sword home in its silver scabbard. 
And when Teiresias spoke, after drinking the dark blood, it was 
the voice of the authentic seer that I heard. 

My lord Odysseus,” he began, ‘ ‘ you are in search of some 
easy way to reach your home. But the powers above are going 

174 ODYSSEY • BOOK XI [ioi- 

to make your journey hard. For I cannot think that you will slip 
through the hands of the Earthshaker, who has by no means for¬ 
gotten his resentment against you for blinding his beloved son. 
Notwithstanding that, you and your friends may yet reach 
Ithaca, though not without mishap, if only you determine to 
keep a tight hand on yourself and your men from the moment 
when your good ship leaves the deep blue seas and approaches 
the Isle ofThrinacie, and you see there at their pasture the cattle 
and the fat sheep of the Sun-god, whose eye and ear miss no¬ 
thing in the world. If you leave them untouched and fix your 
mind on getting home, there is some chance that all of you may 
yet reach Ithaca, though not in comfort. But if you hurt them, 
then I warrant you that your ship and company will be de¬ 
stroyed, and if you yourself do manage to escape, you will come 
home late, m evil plight, upon a foreign ship, with all your com¬ 
rades dead. You will find trouble too in your house - a set of 
scoundrels eating up your stores, making love to your royal 
consort, and offering wedding gifts. It is true that you will pay 
out these men for their misdeeds when you reach home. But 
whichever way you choose to kill them, whether by stratagem 
or in a straight fight with the naked sword, when you have 
cleared your palace of these Suitors, you must then set out once 
more upon your travels. You must take a well-cut oar and go on 
till you reach a people who know nothing of the sea and never 
Use salt with their food, so that our crimson-painted ships and 
the long oars that serve those ships as wings are quite beyond 
their ken. And this will be your cue - a very clear one, which 
you cannot miss. When you fall in with some other traveller 
who speaks of the * winnowing-fan ’ you are carrying on your 
shoulder, the time will have come for you to plant your shapely 
oar in the earth and offer Lord Poseidon the rich sacrifice of a 
ram, a bull, and a breeding-boar. Then go back home and make 
ceremonial offerings to the immortal gods who live in the 
broad heavens, to all of them, this time, in due precedence. 

* “As for your own end, Death will come to you out of the 
sea. Death in his gentlest guise. When he takes you, you will be 

- 174 ] THE BOOK OF THE DEAD 175 

worn out after an easy old age and surrounded by a prosperous 
people. This is the truth that I have told you.” 

4 “Teiresias,” I answered him, “I cannot doubt that these are 
the threads of destiny which the gods themselves have spun. But 
there is another matter that I wish you to explain. I see the soul 
of my dead mother over there. She sits in silence by the blood 
and cannot bring herself to look her own son in the face or say a 
single word to him. Tell me, my prince, is there no way to make 
her know that I am he?” 

4 44 There is a simple rule,” said Teiresias, 44 which I will ex¬ 
plain. Any ghost to whom you give access to the blood will hold 
rational speech with you, while those whom you reject will 
leave you and retire.” 

4 These were the last words I heard from Prince Teiresias. He 
had spoken his prophecies and now withdrew into the Halls of 
Hades. But I kept steady at my post and waited till my mother 
came up and took a draught of the black blood. She recognized 
me then at once, and the pitiful words fell fast enough from her 

4 44 My child, how did you come here under the western gloom, 
you that are still alive? This is no easy place for living eyes to 
find. For between you and us flow the wide waters of the Pavers 
ofFear, and the very first barrier is Ocean, whose stream a man 
could never cross on foot, but only in a well-found ship. Have 
you come here now from Troy and been wandering over the 
seas with your comrades ever since you left? Have you not been 
to Ithaca yet, nor seen your wife and home?” 

4 “Mother,” I answered her, 44 1 had no choice but to come 
down to Hades and consult the soul of Theban Teiresias. For I 
have never yet been near to Achaea, nor set foot on our own 
land, but have been a wretched wanderer from the very day 
when I sailed with King Agamemnon for Ilium to fight the 
Trojan charioteers. But tell me your own story. What was your 
fate; what death overtook you? Had you some lingering dis¬ 
ease? Or did Artemis the Archeress visit and kill you with her 
gentle darts? And tell me of my father and the son I left behind. 

176 ODYSSEY 9 BOOK XI [175- 

Is my royal prerogative safe in their hands, or did it fall to some 
other man when it was assumed that I should never return? And 
what of my good wife? How does she feel and what does she 
intend to do? Is she still living with her son and keeping our 
estate intact? Or has the likeliest of her countrymen already 
married her?” 

“ There is no question ofher not staying in your house,” my 
royal mother replied. “ She has schooled her heart to patience, 
though her eyes are never free from tears as the slow nights and 
days pass sorrowfully by. Your princely rights have not yet 
passed into other hands, but Telemachus is in peaceful possession 
of the royal lands and attends all public banquets such as the 
magistrates are expected to give, for every one of them invites 
him. But your father has made a recluse ofhimselfin the country 
and never goes down to the city. He has given up sleeping in 
laundered sheets and blankets on a proper bed. Instead, he lies 
down in the winter-time with the labourers at the farm in the 
dust by the fire, and goes about in rags. But when the summer 
and the mellow autumn days come round, he makes himself a 
humble couch of fallen leaves anywhere on the high ground of 
his vineyard plot. There he lies in his misery, nursing his grief 
and yearning for you to come back, while to make things worse 
old age is pressing hard upon him. That was my undoing too; 
it was that that brought me to the grave. It was not that the keen¬ 
eyed Archeress sought me out in our home and killed me with 
her gentle darts. Nor was I attacked by any of the malignant 
diseases that so often make the body waste away and die. No, it 
was my heartache for you, my glorious Odysseus, and for your 
wise and gentle ways that brought my life and all its sweetness 
to an end.” 

4 As my mother spoke, there came to me out of the confusion 
in my heart the one desire, to embrace her spirit, dead though 
she was. Thrice, in my eagerness to clasp her to me, I started for¬ 
ward with my hands outstretched. Thrice, like a shadow or a 
dream, she slipped through my arms and left me harrowed by 
an even sharper pain. 


‘ “Mother,” I cried in my despair, “why do you avoid me 
when I try to reach you, so that even in Hell we may throw our 
loving arms around each other’s necks and draw cold comfort 
from our tears ? Or is this a mere phantom that grim Persephone 
has sent me to accentuate my grief?” 

* “My child, my child!” came her reply. “What man on earth 
has more to bear than you? This is no trick played on you by 
Persephone, Daughter of Zeus. You are only witnessing here 
the law of our mortal nature, when we come to die. We no 
longer have sinews keeping the bones and flesh together, but 
once the life-force has departed from our white bones, all is con¬ 
sumed by the fierce heat of the blazing fire, and the soul slips 
away like a dream and flutters on the air. But you must hasten 
back now to the light of day. And bear in mind all you have 
learnt here, so that one day you can tell your wife.” 

4 Such was the talk that we two had together. And now, im¬ 
pelled by dread Persephone, there came up all the women who 
had been the wives or the daughters of princes, and gathered 
round the black blood in a throng. I cast about me for a way to 
question each in turn, and in the end I solved the problem by 
drawing my long sword from my side and preventing them 
from drinking the dark blood all together. So they came for¬ 
ward and announced their lineage one by one, and thus I was 
able to question them all. 

4 The first I saw was highborn Tyro, who told me she was the 
daughter of the noble Salmoneus, and had married Cretheus, 
Aeolus’ son. She fell in love with the god of the River Enipeus, 
the loveliest river that runs on earth, and often wandered on 
the banks ofhis beautiful stream, until one day the Lord of the 
Earthquake, the Girdler of the World, disguised himself as the 
river-god and lay with her where the river rushes out to sea. 
A dark wave gathered mountain-high, curled over them, and 
hid the woman and the god. He then unclasped her virgin belt 
and sealed her eyes in sleep. But when his love had had its way, 
he took her hand in his; and now he spoke. 44 Lady,” he said, 4 4 be 
happy in this love of ours, and as the year completes its course, 

I78 ODYSSEY • BOOK XI [249- 

since a god’s embrace is never fruitless, you will give birth to 
beautiful children, whom you must nurse and rear with care. 
But now go home, and guard your tongue. Tell no one; but I 
wish you to know that I am Poseidon, the Shaker of the Earth.” 
The god then disappeared under the heaving sea. Tyro con¬ 
ceived, and gave birth to Pelias and Neleus, who both rose to 
power as servants of almighty Zeus. Pelias lived in the spacious 
lands oflolcus, and his wealth lay in his flocks; while Neleus had 
his home in sandy Pylos. Nor were these the only children of 
this queen among women. To Cretheus she bore three other 
sons, Aeson and Pheres and Amythaon, that gallant charioteer. 

‘ The next I saw was Antiope, the daughter of Asopus; and it 
was in the arms of Zeus that she claimed to have slept. She had 
two sons, Amphion and Zethus, the founders of Thebes of the 
Seven Gates, who first fortified its site with towers, since for all 
their prowess they could not establish themselves in the open 
lands of Thebes without a wall to their city. 

‘After Antiope I saw Alcmene, Amphitryon’s wife, who lay 
in the loving arms of almighty Zeus and brought the all-daring 
lion-hearted Heracles into the world. Megare I also saw, proud 
Creon’s daughter, who married that indomitable son of Am¬ 

‘Then I met Oedipus’ mother, the lovely Epicaste. She in her 
ignorance committed the sin of marrying her son. For Oedipus 
killed his father and took his mother to wife. But the gods soon 
let the truth come out. For Oedipus they then conceived a cruel 
punishment: they left him to suffer the tortures of remorse as 
king of the Cadmeians in his beloved Thebes. But Epicaste, ob¬ 
sessed by anguish at her deed, hanged herself with a long rope 
she made fast to the roof-beam overhead, and so came down to 
the Halls of Hades, the mighty Warden of the Gates, leaving 
Oedipus to suffer all the horrors that a mother’s curses can inflict. 

‘Next, and loveliest of all, came Chloris, the youngest 
daughter of Amphion son oflasus, who once lorded it in Orcho- 
menus as King of the Minyae. Neleus married her for her beauty 
and paid a fortune for her hand. So she was Queen in Pylos, and 


bore him glorious children, Nestor and Chromius and princely 
Periclymenus; and besides these the stately Pero, the wonder of 
her age, whom all their neighbours wished to marry. ButNeleus 
announced that he would give her hand to no one but the man 
who should succeed in lifting from Phylace the cattle of the 
mighty Iphicles. It was a dangerous task to round up these 
shambling broad-browed cattle. A certain chivalrous seer was 
the only man who undertook the adventure. And the gods were 
against him. Misfortune dogged his steps; and he was left a 
wretched prisoner in the savage herdsmen’s hands. The days 
passed and mounted up into months. But it was not until a year 
had run its course and the seasons came round once more, that 
the mighty Iphicles set him free in return for all the oracles he 
had uttered. Thus the will of Zeus was done. 

‘Then I saw Lede, wife of Tyndareus, who bore him those 
stout-hearted twins, Castor the trainer ofhorses, and Polydeuces 
the great boxer, both of whom are still alive, though the fruitful 
earth has received them in her lap. For even in the world below 
they have been singled out by Zeus; each is a living and a dead 
man on alternate days, and they are honoured like the gods. 

‘ My eyes fell next on Iphimedeia, the consort of Aloeus, who 
claimed that she had slept with Poseidon, and was the mother of 
those short-lived twins, the godlike Otus and Ephialtes famed 
in story, the tallest men Earth ever nourished on her bread, and 
finer by far than all but the glorious Orion. In their ninth year 
they were nine cubits across the shoulders and nine fathoms tall. 
It was this pair that threatened to confound the very gods on 
Olympus with the din and turmoil of battle. It was their am¬ 
bition to pile Mount Ossa on Olympus, and wooded Pelion on 
Ossa, so as to make a stairway up to heaven. And this they would 
have accomplished had they reached their full stature. But the 
son whom Leto of the lovely tresses bore to Zeus destroyed 
them both before the down came curling on their cheeks and 
decked their chins with its fleecy mantle. 

‘ Phaedre I also saw, and Procris, and the lovely Ariadne, that 
daughter of the wizard Minos whom Theseus once attempted 

180 ODYSSEY • BOOK XI [323- 

to carry off from Crete to the sacred soil of Athens, though he 
had no joy of her, for before their journey’s end Dionysus 
brought word to Artemis, and she killed her in sea-girt Dia. 

‘Maera too, and Clymene I saw, and the hateful Eriphyle, 
who bartered her own husband’s life for lucre. Indeed I could 
not tell you the tales, nor even give you the names, of all the 
great men’s wives and daughters whom I saw, for before I had 
done the livelong night would have slipped away. 

‘But now the time has come for me to go and sleep, whether 
I join my crew on board or remain in your palace. As for my 
journey, I leave the arrangements in the gods’ hands and in 

Odysseus came to a stop. And such was the spell he had cast on 
the entire company that not a sound was heard in the whole 
length of that shadowy hall, till white-armed Arete broke the 
silence at last. 

‘Phaeacians,’ she said, ‘what is your verdict, now that you 
have seen the looks and stature of our guest and have sampled 
his wisdom ? My guest, I should have said. But each of you shares 
in the honour. So do not send him on his way with undue haste, 
nor stint your generosity to one who stands in such sore need. 
For heaven has filled your homes with riches.’ 

The venerable lord Echeneus, the oldest man among them, 
followed this up. ‘ My friends,’ he said, ‘ our wise queen’s advice 
goes straight to the mark and is just what we might have ex¬ 
pected. I think you should follow it. But it rests with Alcinous 
here to say the word and take the appropriate action.’ 

Alcinous replied without hesitation: ‘As I live and rule this 
sailor folk, it shall be so. But our guest must curb his eagerness to 
get home and make up his mind to stay till tomorrow, so as to 
give me time to fulfil my generous plans. Meanwhile his passage 
home shall be the concern of the whole people, and my own in 
particular, since I am monarch here.’ 

‘Lord Alcinous, my most worshipful prince,’ Odysseus dis¬ 
creetly put in, ‘nothing would suit me better than that you 
should press me to stay among you even for a year, provided 


you saw me safely back and loaded me with your splendid gifts. 
It would be a great advantage to me to arrive in my own country 
with fuller coffers. For thus enriched I should win a kindlier wel¬ 
come and greater respect from everyone I met after returning to 

4 Odysseus/ said Alcinous, ‘we are far from regarding you as 
one of those impostors and humbugs whom this dark world 
brings forth in such profusion to spin their lying yams which 
nobody can test. On the contrary, not only is your speech a de¬ 
light but you have soundjudgement too, and you have told us 
the stories of your compatriots and your own grievous misad¬ 
ventures with all the artistry that a ballad-singer might display. 
I beg you now to continue and let us know whether you also 
saw any of those heroic comrades of yours who joined you on 
the expedition to Ilium and fell in action there. The night is still 
long, too long for reckoning; and the time has not yet come for 
us to seek our sleeping-quarters. Tell me more of your marvel¬ 
lous doings. I could hold out till the blessed dawn, if only you 
could bring yourself to stay in this hall and continue the tale of 
your misfortunes/ 

In response to this the resourceful Odysseus went on with his 

‘ Lord Alcinous, my most worshipful prince, ’ he began, ‘ there 
is a time for long tales, but there is also a time for sleep. How¬ 
ever, if you really wish to hear me further, far be it from me to 
deny you an even more tragic tale than you have heard already. 

I will tell you the sad fate of my comrades-in-arms who per¬ 
ished after the sack and escaped from the perils and turmoil of 
the Trojan war only to lose their lives when homeward bound, 
all through the whim of one unfaithful wife. 

‘In the end, holy Persephone drove off the women’s ghosts. 
They scattered in all directions, and I was approached by the 
soul of Agamemnon son of Atreus. He came in sorrow, and 
round about him were gathered the souls of all those who had 
met their doom and died with him in Aegisthus’ palace. As soon 
as he had drunk the dark blood, he recognized me, uttered a loud 




cry and burst into tears, stretching his arms out in my direction 
in his eagerness to reach me. But this he could not do, for all the 
strength and vigour had gone for ever from those once supple 
limbs. Moved to compassion at the sight, I too gave way to 
tears and spoke to him from my heart: 

* “Illustrious son of Atreus, Agamemnon, King of men, tell 
me what mortal stroke of fate it was that laid you low. Did 
Poseidon rouse the winds to fury and overwhelm your ships? 
Or did you fall to some hostile tribe on land as you were round¬ 
ing up their cattle and their flocks or fighting with them for 
their town and women?” 

* “ Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus of the nimble wits,” he 
answered me at once, “Poseidon did not wreck my ships; nor 
did I fall to any hostile tribe on land. It was Aegisthus who 
plotted my destruction and with my accursed wife put me to 
death. He invited me to the palace, he feasted me, and he killed 
me as a man fells an ox at its manger. That was my most miser¬ 
able end. And all around me my companions were cut down in 
ruthless succession, like white-tusked swine slaughtered in the 
mansion of some great and wealthy lord, for a wedding, a club- 
banquet, or a sumptuous public feast. You, Odysseus, have wit¬ 
nessed the deaths of many men in single combat or the thick of 
battle, but none with such horror as you would have felt had 
you seen us lying there by the wine-bowl and the laden tables in 
the hall, while the whole floor swam with our blood. Yet the 
most pitiable thing of all was the cry I heard from Cassandra, 
daughter of Priam, whom that foul traitress Clytaemnestra 
murdered at my side. As I lay on the ground, I raised my hands 
in a dying effort to grip her sword. But the harlot turned her 
face aside, and had not even the grace, though I was on my way 
to Hades, to shut my eyes with her hands or to close my mouth. 
And so I say that for brutality and infamy there is no one to 
equal a woman who can contemplate such deeds. Who else 
could conceive so hideous a crime as her deliberate butchery of 
her husband and her lord? Indeed, I had looked forward to a 
rare welcome from my children and my servants when I reached 




my home. But now, in the depth of her villainy, she has branded 
not herself alone but the whole of her sex and every honest 
woman for all time to come/’ 

4 “Alas!” I exclaimed. “All-seeing Zeus has indeed proved 
himself a relentless foe to the House ofAtreus, and from the be¬ 
ginning he has worked his will through women’s crooked ways. 
It was for Helen’s sake that so many of us met our deaths, and it 
was Clytaemnestra who hatched the plot against her absent 

4 “Let this .be a lesson to you also,” replied Agamemnon. 
“Never be too gentle even with your wife, nor show her all that 
is in your mind. Reveal a little of your counsel to her, but keep 
the rest ofit to yourself. Not that your wife, Odysseus, will ever 
murder you. Icarius’ daughter is far too sound in heart and 
brain for that. The wise Penelope! She was a young bride when 
we said goodbye to her on our way to the war. She had a baby 
son at her breast. And now, I suppose, he has begun to take his 
seat among the men. The lucky lad! His loving father will come 
home and see him, and he will kiss his father. That is how things 
should be. Whereas that wife of mine refused me even the satis¬ 
faction of setting eyes on my son. She could not wait so long 
before she killed his father. And now let me give you a piece of 
advice which I hope you will take to heart. Do not sail openly 
into port when you reach your home-country. Make a secret 
approach. Women, I tell you, are no longer to be trusted. But 
to go back to my son, can you give me the truth about him? Do 
you and your friends happen to have heard of him as still alive, 
in Orchomenus possibly, or sandy Pylos, or maybe with Mene- 
laus in his spreading city of Sparta? For I know that my good 
Orestes has not yet died and come below.” 

4 “ Son of Atreus,” I answered him , 4 4 why ask me that? I have 
no idea whether he is alive or dead. And it would be wrong of 
me to give you idle gossip.” 

Such was the solemn colloquy that we two had as we stood 
there with our sorrows and the tears rolled down our cheeks. 
And now there came the souls ofPeleus’ son Achilles, ofPatro- 




clus, of the noble Antilochus, and of Aias, who in stature and in 
manly grace was second to none of the Danaans but the flawless 
son ofPeleus. It was the soul of Achilles, the great runner, who 
recognized me. In mournful, measured tones he greeted me by 
my titles, and went on: “What next, Odysseus, dauntless heart? 
What greater exploit can you plan to cap your voyage here? 
How did you dare to come below to Hades’ realm, where the 
dead live on without their wits as disembodied ghosts?” 

4 “Achilles,” I answered him, “son of Peleus and flower of 
Achaean chivalry, I came to consult with Teiresias in the hope 
of finding out from him how I could reach my rocky Ithaca. 
For I have not managed to come near Achaea yet, nor set foot on 
my own island, but have been dogged by misfortune. How dif¬ 
ferent from you, Achilles, the most fortunate man that ever was 
or will be! For in the old days when you were on earth, we 
Argives honoured you as though you were a god; and now, 
down here, you are a mighty prince among the dead. For you, 
Achilles, Death should have lost his sting.” 

‘ “My lord Odysseus,” he replied, “spare me your praise of 
Death. Put me on earth again, and I would rather be a serf in the 
house of some landless man, with little enough for himself to 
live on, than king of all these dead men that have done with life. 
But enough. Tell me what news there is of that fine son ofmine. 
Did he follow me to the war and play a leading part or not? And 
tell me anything you have heard of the noble Peleus. Does the 
Myrmidon nation still do him homage, or do they look down 
on him in Hellas and Phthie now that old age has made a cripple 
ofhim? For I am not up there in the sunlight to protect him with 
the mighty arms that once did battle for the Argives and laid the 
champions of the enemy low on the broad plains of Troy. If I 
could return for a single hour to my father’s house with the 
strength I then enjoyed, I would make those who injure him 
and rob him ofhis rights shrink in dismay before my might and 
my unconquerable hands.” 

* “Of the noble Peleus,” I answered Achilles, “I have heard 
nothing. But of your dear son Neoptolemus I will give you all 


the news you ask for, since it was I who brought him from 
Scyros in my own fine ship tojoin the Achaean army. And there 
in front of the city of Troy, when we used to discuss our plans, 
he was always the first to speak and no words ofhis ever missed 
their mark. King Nestor and I were his only betters in debate. 
Nor, when we Achaeans gave battle on the Trojan plain, was he 
ever content to linger in the ranks or with the crowd. That im¬ 
petuous spirit ofhis gave place to none, and he would sally out 
beyond the foremost. Many was the man he brought down in 
mortal combat. I could not tell you of all the people he killed in 
battle for the Argives, nor give you their names; but well I re¬ 
member how the lord Eurypylus son of Telephus fell to his 
sword, and how many ofhis Hittite men-at-arms were slaugh¬ 
tered at his side, all on account ofa bribe that a woman had taken. 
He was the handsomest man I ever saw, next to the godlike 
Memnon. Then again, when we Argive captains took our places 
in the wooden horse Epeius made, and it rested solely with me 
to throw our ambush open or to keep it shut, all the other 
Danaan chieftains and officers were wiping the tears from their 
eyes and every man’s legs were trembling beneath him, but not 
once did I see your son’s fine colour change to pallor nor catch 
him brushing a tear from his cheek. On the contrary he begged 
me time and again to let him sally from the Horse and kept fum¬ 
bling eagerly at his sword-hilt and his heavy spear in his keen¬ 
ness to fall on the Trojans. And when we had brought Priam’s 
city tumbling down in ruins, he took his share of the booty and 
his special prize, and embarked safe and sound on his ship with¬ 
out a single wound either from a flying dart or from a sword at 
close quarters. The War-god in his fury is no respecter of 
persons, but the mischances ofbattle had touched your son not 
at all.” 

‘ When I had done, the soul of Achilles, whose feet had been so 
fleet on earth, passed with great strides down the meadow of 
asphodel, rejoicing in the news I had given him of his son’s 

‘The mourning ghosts of all the other dead and departed 




pressed round me now, each with some question for me on 
matters that were near his heart. The only soul that stood aloof 
was that of Aias son of Telamon, still embittered by the defeat I 
had inflicted on him at the ships when defending my claim to the 
arms of Achilles, whose divine mother had offered them as a 
prize, with the Trojan captives and Pallas Athene forjudges, 
Would to god I had never won such a prize - the arms that 
brought Aias to his grave, the heroic Aias, who next to the peer¬ 
less son of Peleus was the finest Danaan of all in looks and the 
noblest in action. I called to him now, using his own and his 
royal father’s names, and sought to placate him: 

‘ “So not even death itself, Aias, could make you forget your 
anger with me on account of those accursed arms! Yet it was the 
gods that made them a curse to us Argives, who lost in you so 
great a tower of strength and have never ceased to mourn your 
death as truly as we lament Achilles, Peleus’ son. No one else is 
to blame but Zeus, that bitter foe of the Danaan army, who 
brought you to your doom. Draw near, my prince, and hear me 
tell our story. Curb your resentment and conquer your pride.” 

‘But Aias gave me not a word in answer and went off into 
Erebus to join the souls of the other dead, where, for all his 
bitterness, he might yet have spoken to me, or I to him, had not 
the wish to see the souls of other dead men filled my heart. 

‘And indeed I there saw Minos, glorious son of Zeus, sitting 
gold sceptre in hand and delivering judgement to the dead, who 
sat or stood all round the King, putting their cases to him for 
decision within the wide portals of the House of Hades. 

‘ My eyes fell next on the giant hunter Orion, who was round¬ 
ing up the game on the meadow of asphodel, the very beasts his 
living hands had killed among the lonely hills, armed with, a 
club of solid bronze that could never be broken. 

‘And I saw Tityos, son of the majestic Earth, prone on th 
ground and covering nine roods as he lay. A pair of vulture 
sat by him, one on either side, and plucked at his liver, plun 
ging their beaks into his body; and his hands were powerless t< 
drive them off. This was his punishment for assaulting Leto, th 


glorious consort of Zeus, as she was travelling to Pytho across 
the pleasant lawns ofPanopeus. 

‘I also saw the awful agonies that Tantalus has to bear. The 
old man was standing in a pool of water which nearly reached 
his chin, and his thirst drove him to unceasing efforts; but he 
could never get a drop to drink. For whenever he stooped in his 
eagerness to lap the water, it disappeared. The pool was swal¬ 
lowed up, and all he saw at his feet was the dark earth, which 
some mysterious power had parched. Trees spread their foliage 
high over the pool and dangled fruits above his head - pear-trees 
and pomegranates, apple-trees with their glossy burden, sweet 
figs and luxuriant olives. But whenever the old man tried to 
grasp them in his hands, the wind would toss them up towards 
the shadowy clouds. 

‘Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus, as he tackled his 
huge rock with both his hands. Leaning against it with his arms 
and thrusting with his legs, he would contrive to push the 
boulder up-hill to the top. But every time, as he was going to 
send it toppling over the crest, its sheer weight turned it back, 
and the misbegotten rock came bounding down again to level 
ground. So once more he had to wrestle with the thing and push 
it up, while the sweat poured from his limbs and the dust rose 
high above his head. 

‘Next after him I observed the mighty Heracles - his wraith, 
that is to say, since he himself banquets at ease with the immortal 
gods and has for consort Hebe of the slim ankles, the Daughter 
of almighty Zeus and golden-sandalled Here. From the dead 
around him there rose a clamour like the call of wild fowl, as 
they scattered in their panic. His looks were sombre as the black¬ 
est night, and with his naked bow in hand and an arrow on the 
string he glanced ferociously this way and that as though at any 
moment he might shoot. Terrible too was the golden strap he 
wore as a baldric over his breast, depicting with grim artistry 
the forms ofbears, wild boars, and glaring lions, with scenes of 
conflict and of battle, of bloodshed and the massacre of men. 
That baldric was a masterpiece that no one should have made, 



[<& 4 - 

and I can only hope that the craftsman who conceived the work 
will rest content. 

‘One look was enough to tell Heracles who I was, and he 
greeted me in mournful tones. “Unhappy man!” he exclaimed, 
after reciting my titles. “ So you too are working out some such 
miserable doom as I was a slave to when the sun shone over my 
head. Son of Zeus though I was, unending troubles came my 
way. For I was bound in service to a master far beneath my rank, 
who used to set me the most arduous tasks. Once, being unable 
to think of anything more difficult for me to do, he sent me 
down here to bring away the Hound of Hell. And under the 
guiding hands ofHermes and bright-eyed Athene, I did succeed 
in capturing him and I dragged him out of Hades’ realm.” 

‘Heracles said no more, but withdrew into the House of 
Hades, while I stuck to my post, in the hope that I might yet be 
visited by other men of note who had perished long ago. And 
now I should have gone still further back in time and seen the 
heroes whom I wished to meet, Theseus, for instance, and Peiri- 
thous, those glorious children of the gods. But before that could 
happen, the tribes of the dead came up and gathered round me 
in their tens of thousands, raising their eerie cry. Sheer panic 
turned me pale, gripped by the sudden fear that dread Perse¬ 
phone might send me up from Hades’ Halls some ghastly mon¬ 
ster like the Gorgon’s head. I made off quickly to my ship and 
told my men to embark and loose the hawsers. They climbed in 
at once and took their seats on the benches, and the current 
carried her down the River of Ocean, helped by our oars at first 
and later by a friendly breeze. 



‘From the flowing waters of the River of Ocean my ship 
passed into the wide spaces of the open sea, and so reached 
Aeaea, the Island of the Rising Sun, where tender Dawn has her 
home and her dancing-lawns Here we beached her on the 
sands and climbed out on to the sea-shore, where we fell mto a 
sound sleep that lasted till daybreak 

‘At the first sight of Dawn's red streamers m the East, I sent off 
a party to Circe's house to fetch the dead body ofElpenor We 
quickly hewed some billets of wood, and then, with the tears 
streaming down our cheeks, gave him solemn burial on the sum¬ 
mit of the boldest headland of the coast When the corpse was 
burnt, and with it the dead man's arms, we built him a barrow, 
hauled up a stone for monument, and planted his shapely oar 
on the top of the mound 

‘We had just dispatched the last details of our task, when 
Circe, who was well aware of our return from Hades and had 
decked herself out to meet us, came hurrying up with a tram of 
servants laden with bread, a plentiful supply of meat, and spark¬ 
ling ruddy wine 

‘ “What hardihood," said the goddess, as we gathered round 
her, “to descend alive mto the House of Hades 1 One death is 
enough for most men, but you will now have two However, 
forget these things, spend the rest of the day where you are, en¬ 
joying this food and wine, and at the first peep of dawn you 
shall sail I myself will give you your route and make every land¬ 
mark clear, to save you from the disasters you would suffer if 
you ran mto the snares that may be laid for you on sea or land ” 
‘ We were not difficult to persuade So the whole day long till 
sunset we sat and feasted on our rich supply of meat washed 
down by mellow wine When the sun sank and darkness fell, 

190 ODYSSEY • BOOK XII [32- 

my men settled down for the night by the hawsers of the ship, 
but Circe took me by the hand, led me away from my good 
friends, and made me sit down and tell her all my news as she 
lay beside me When I had given her the whole tale from first 
to last the goddess said 

4 “Very well, all that is done with now But listen while I tell 
you what follows - and the gods themselves will see that my 
words keep fresh m your mind Your next encounter will be 
with the Sirens, who bewitch everybody that approaches them 
There is no home-coming for the man who draws near them 
unawares and hears the Sirens’ voices, no welcome from his 
wife, no little children brightening at their father’s return For 
with the music of their song the Sirens cast their spell upon him, 
as they sit there m a meadow piled high with the mouldering 
skeletons of men, whose withered skm still hangs upon their 
bones Drive your ship past the spot, and to prevent any of your 
crew from hearing, soften some beeswax and plug their ears 
with it But if you wish to listen yourself, make them bind you 
hand and foot on board and stand you up by the step of the 
mast, with the rope’s ends lashed to the mast itself This will 
allow you to listen with enjoyment to the twin Sirens’ voices 
But if you start begging your men to release you, they must add 
to the bonds that already hold you fast 

4 “When your crew have earned you past this danger, you 
will have reached a point beyond which I cannot fully guide 
you Two ways will he before you, and you must choose be¬ 
tween them as you see fit, though I will tell you both One leads 
to those sheer cliffs which the blessed gods know as the Wander¬ 
ing Rocks Here blue-eyed Amphitnte sends her great breakers 
thundering m, and the very birds cannot fly by m safety Even 
from the shy doves that bring ambrosia to Father Zeus the beet¬ 
ling rock takes toll each time they pass, and the Father has to 
send one more to make their number up, while for such sailors 
as bring their ship to the spot, there is no escape whatever They 
end as flotsam on the sea, timbers and corpses tossed m confusion 
by the waves or licked up by tempestuous and destroying flames. 


ipfall ships that go down to the sea one only has made the pass¬ 
age, and that was the celebrated Argo, homeward bound from 
Aeetes* coastyind she would soonhave been dashed upon those 
mighty crags, lfHere, for love ofjason, had not helped her past 
4 “In the other direction lie two rocks, the higher of which 
rears its sharp peak up to the very sky and is capped by black 
clouds that never stream away nor leave clear weather round 
the top, even m summer or at harvest-time No man on earth 
could climb it, up or down, not even with twenty hands and 
feet to help him, for the rock is as smooth as if it had been 
polished But half-way up the crag there is a misty cavern, facing 
the West and running down to Erebus, past which, my lord 
Odysseus, you must steer your ship The strongest bowman 
could not reach the gapmg mouth of the cave with an arrow 
shot from a ship below It is the home of Scylla, the creature 
with the dreadful bark It is true that her yelp is no louder than a 
new-born pup’s, but she is a horrible monster nevertheless, and 
one whom nobody could look at with dehght, not even a god if 
he passed that way She has twelve feet, all dangling m the air, 
and six long necks, each ending m a grisly head with triple rows 
of teeth, set thick and close, and darkly menacing death Up to 
her middle she is sunk m the depths of the cave, but her heads 
protrude from the fearful abyss, and thus she fishes from her 
own abode, scoutmg around the rock for any dolphin or sword¬ 
fish she may catch, or any of the larger monsters which m their 
thousands find their living m the roaring seas No crew can 
boast that they ever sailed their ship past Scylla without loss, 
smce from every passmg vessel she snatches a man with each of 
her heads and so bears off her prey 
4 44 The other of the two rocks is lower, as you, Odysseus, will 
see, and the distance between them is no more than a bowshot 
A great fig-tree with luxuriant foliage grows upon the crag, and 
it is below this that dread Charybdis sucks the dark waters down 
Three times a day she spews them up, and three times she swal¬ 
lows them down once more in her horrible way. Heaven keep 
you from the spot when she is at her work, for not even the 


Earthshaker could save you from disaster. No: you must hug 
Scylla’s rock and with all speed drive your ship through, since it 
is far better that you should have to mourn the loss of six of your 
company than that of your whole crew.” 

* “Yes, goddess,” I replied, but there is more I wish to know. 
Could I not somehow steer clear of the terrors of Charybdis, yet 
tackle Scylla when she comes at my crew?” 

‘But the goddess only cried out at me as an obstinate fool, 
always spoiling for a fight and welcoming trouble. “ So you are 
not prepared,” she said, * ‘ to give in even to immortal gods ? I tell 
you, Scylla was not bom for death: the fiend will live for ever. 
She is a thing to shun, intractable, ferocious, and impossible to 
fight. No; against her there is no defence, and valour lies in 
flight. For if you waste time by the rock in putting on your 
armour, I am only afraid she may dart out once more, catch you 
again with all six heads and snatch another half-dozen of your 
crew. So drive your ship past with all your might, and call on 
Cratais, Scylla’s mother, who brought her into the world to 
prey on men. She will prevent her from making a second sally, 

‘ “Your next landfall will be the island ofThrinacie, where 
the Sun-god pastures his large herds and well-fed sheep. There 
are seven herds of cattle and as many flocks ofbeautiful sheep, 
with fifty head in each. These animals were not bom into the 
world nor are they subject to a natural death. And to shepherd 
them they have goddesses, the lovely Nymphs, Phaethusa and 
Lampetie, children of Hyperion the Sun-god by the divine 
Neaera, whom their mother, when she had brought them up, 
carried off to this new and distant home in Thrinacie to watch 
over their father’s sheep and fatted cattle. Now if you leave these 
animals untouched and fix your mind on getting home, there is 
some chance that all of you may yet reach Ithaca, though not in 
comfort. But if you hurt them, then I swear to you that your 
ship and your company will be destroyed. And if you yourself 
contrive to escape, you will come home late, in evil plight, with 
all your comrades lost.” 

* As Circe came to an end, Dawn took her golden throne. The 




gracious goddess left me and made her way inland, while I went 
to my ship and ordered my men to embark and loose the haw¬ 
sers. They did so promptly, went to the benches, sat down in 
their places and struck the grey surf with their oars. Then the 
fair Circe, that formidable goddess with a woman’s voice, sent 
us the friendly escort of a favourable wind, which sprang up 
from astern and filled the sail of our blue-painted ship. We set 
the tackle in order fore and aft and then sat down, while the 
wind and the helmsman kept her on her course. 

4 I was much perturbed in spirit and before long took my men 
into my confidence. “My friends,” I said, “it is not right that 
only one or two of us should know the prophecies that Circe, in 
her divine wisdom, has made to me, and I am going to pass them 
on to you, so that we may all be forewarned, whether we die or 
escape the worst and save our lives. Her first warning concerned 
the mysterious Sirens. We must beware of their song and give 
their flowery meadow a wide berth. I alone, she suggested, 
might listen to their voices; but you must bind me hard and 
fast, so that I cannot stir from the spot where you will stand me, 
by the step of the mast, with the rope’s ends lashed round the 
mast itself. And if I beg you to release me, you must tighten and 
add to my bonds.” 

4 1 thus explained every detail to my men. In the meantime our 
good ship, with that perfect wind to drive her, fast approached 
the Sirens’ Isle. But now the breeze dropped, some power lulled 
the waves, and a breathless calm set in. Rising from their seats 
my men drew in the sail and threw it into the hold, then sat 
down at the oars and churned the water white with their blades 
of polished pine. Meanwhile I took a large round of wax, cut it 
up small with my sword, and kneaded the pieces with all the 
strength of my fingers. The wax soon yielded to my vigorous 
treatment and grew warm, for I had the rays of my Lord the 
Sun to help me. I took eachofmy men in turn and plugged their 
ears with it. They then made me a prisoner on my ship by bind¬ 
ing me hand and foot, standing me up by the step of the mast 
and tying the rope’s ends to the mast itself. This done, they sat 



[ 180 - 

down once more and struck the grey water with their oars 

‘We made good progress and hadjust come within call of the 
shore when the Sirens became aware that a ship was swiftly 
bearing down upon them, and broke into their liquid song. 

* “Draw near,” they sang, “illustrious Odysseus, flower of 
Achaean chivalry, and bring your ship to rest so that you may 
hear our voices. No seaman ever sailed his black ship past this 
spot without listening to the sweet tones that flow from our lips, 
and none that listened has not been delighted and gone on a 
wiser man. For we know all that the Argives and Trojans suf¬ 
fered on the broad plain ofTroy by the will of the gods, and we 
have foreknowledge of all that is going to happen on this fruit¬ 
ful earth.” 

* The lovely voices came to me across the water, and my heart 
was filled with such a longing to listen that with nod and frown 
I signed to my men to set me free. But they swung forward to 
their oars and rowed ahead, while Perimedes and Eurylochus 
jumped up, tightened my bonds and added more. However, 
when they had rowed past the Sirens and we could no longer 
hear their voices and the burden of their song, my good com¬ 
panions were quick to clear their ears of the wax I had used to 
stop them, and to free me from my shackles. 

‘ We had no sooner put this island behind us than I saw a cloud 
of smoke ahead and a raging surf, the roar of which I could al¬ 
ready hear. My men were so terrified that the oars all dropped 
from their grasp and fell with a splash in the wash of the ship; 
while the ship herself, now that the hands that had pulled the 
long blades were idle, was brought to a standstill. I made a tour 
of the vessel, and with a soothing word for each man I tried to 
put heart into my company. 

* “My friends,” I said, “we are men who have met trouble 
before. And 1 cannot see that we are faced here by anything 
worse than when the Cyclops used his brutal strength to im¬ 
prison us in his cave. Yet my courage and presence of mind 
found a way out for us even from there; and I am sure that this 
too will be a memory for us one day. So now I appeal to you all 


to do exactly as I say. Oarsmen, stick to your benches, striking 
hard with your blades through the broken water, and we may 
have the luck to slip by and for once avoid disaster. Helmsman, 
your orders are these. Get them by heart, for the good ship’s 
steering-oar is under your control. Give a wide berth to that 
smoke and surf you see, and hug these cliffs, or before you can 
stop her the ship may take it into her head to make a dash over 
there and you’ll wreck us.” 

‘The crew obeyed me readily enough. Trouble from Scylla 
seemed inevitable, so I did not mention her, fearing that in their 
panic my men might stop rowing and hide in the hold. But now 
1 allowed myself to forget Circe’s irksome by unction not to 
arm myself in any way. I put my fine harness on, seized a couple 
oflong spears, and took my stand on the forecastle deck, hoping 
from that post to get the first view of Scylla, the monster of the 
rocks, who wrought such havoc on my crew. But I could not 
catch a glimpse ofher anywhere, though I searched the sombre 
face of the cliff in every part till my eyes were tired. 

‘Thus we sailed up the straits, groaning in terror, for on the 
one side we had Scylla, while on the other the mysterious 
Charybdis sucked down the salt sea water in her dreadful way. 
When she vomited it up, she was stirred to her depths and 
seethed over like a cauldron on a blazing fire; and the spray she 
flung on high rained down on the tops of the crags at either side. 
But when she swallowed the salt water down, the whole in¬ 
terior ofher vortex was exposed, the rocks re-echoed to her 
fearful roar, and the dark sands of the sea bottom came into 

‘ My men turned pale with fear; and now, while all eyes were 
fixed on Charybdis and the quarter from which we looked for 
disaster, Scylla snatched out of my boat the six ablest hands I had 
on board. I swung round, to glance at the ship and run my eye 
over the crew,just in time to see the arms and legs ofher victims 
dangled high in the air above my head. “ Odysseus! ” they called 
out to me in their agony. But it was the last time they used my 
name. For like an angler on ajutting point, who with a long rod 

196 ODYSSEY • BOOK XII [252- 

casts his ox-hom lure into the sea as bait for the little fish below, 
gets a bite, and whips his struggling prize to land, Scylla had 
whisked my comrades up and swept them struggling to the 
rocks, where she devoured them at her own door, shrieking and 
stretching out their hands to me in their last desperate throes. In 
all I have gone through as I made my way across the seas, I have 
never had to witness a more pitiable sight than that. 

‘From the peril of the Rocks, from Scylla, and from the 
terrors of Charybdis we had now escaped; and it was not long 
before we reached the Sun-god’s favoured isle, where Hyperion 
kept his splendid broad-browed cattle and his flocks of sturdy 
sheep. From where I was on board, right out at sea, I could hear 
the lowing of cows as they were stalled for the night, and the 
bleating of sheep. And there came into my mind the words of 
Teiresias, the blind Theban prophet, and of Circe of Aeaea, who 
had each been so insistent in warning me to avoid this Island of 
the Sun, the comfort of mankind. So in spite of my own disap¬ 
pointment I decided to inform the others. 

‘ “My men,” I said, “forget your troubles for a moment, and 
listen to me while I tell you of the oracles I had from Teiresias 
and Circe of Aeaea. They warned me repeatedly to keep clear of 
the Island of the Sun, the comfort of mankind, for there, they 
said, our deadliest peril lurks. So drive the ship past and put the 
island astern.” 

My men were heart-broken when they heard this, and 
Eurylochus weighed in at once in a truculent vein. “Odysseus,” 
he said, “you are one of those hard men whose spirit never flags 
and whose body never tires. You must be made ofiron through 
and through to forbid your men, worn out by labour and by 
lack of sleep, to set foot on dry land, with the chance of cooking 
themselves a cheerful supper on this sea-girt isle. Instead, you 
expect us, just as we are, to go blindly on through the night that 
is overtaking us and put leagues offog and sea between the island 
and ourselves. What of the high winds that spring up at night 
and do such harm to shipping? What port could we make to 
save ourselves from foundering, if we were hit by a sudden 




squall from the south or the west? There’s nothing like the 
South Wind or the wicked West for smashing up a ship. And 
they don’t ask leave of our lords the gods! No, let us take our 
cue now from the evening dusk and cook our supper. We won’t 
stray from the ship, and in the morning we can get on board 
once more and put out into the open sea.” 

‘This speech ofEurylochus was greeted by applause from all 
the rest, and it was brought home to me now that heaven really 
had some calamity in store for us. I answered him gravely: 
“Eurylochus, I am one against many, and you force my hand. 
Very well. But I call on every man ofyou to give me his solemn 
promise that if we come across a herd of cattle or some great 
flock of sheep, he will not kill a head of either in a wanton fit of 
folly. Instead, you will sit in peace and eat the rations that the 
goddess Circe has provided.” 

‘The crew agreed and promised to abstain. Accordingly, 
when all had solemnly taken the oath, we brought the good ship 
to anchor in a sheltered cove, with fresh water at hand, and the 
men disembarked and proceeded to prepare their supper in the 
proper style. When they had satisfied their hunger and thirst, 
their thoughts returned to their dear comrades whom Scylla 
had snatched from the ship’s hold and devoured; and they wept 
for them till sweet sleep overtook them in their tears. 

‘In the third watch of the night, when the stars had passed 
their zenith, Zeus the Cloud-gatherer sent us a gale ofincredible 
violence. He covered land and sea with clouds, and in a moment 
the black sky had blotted out the world. So at the first peep of 
day we beached our ship and dragged her up into the shelter of 
a cave, a pleasant spot which the Nymphs used as a dancing- 
ground and meeting-place. I then ordered all my men to gather 
round, and gave them their warning. “My friends,” I said, 
“since we have plenty of food and drink on board, let us keep 
our hands off these cattle, or we shall come to grief. For the 
cows and the fine sheep you have seen belong to that formidable 
god, the Sun, whose eyes and ears miss nothing in the world.” 

‘ My company accepted this with no sign ofa rebellious spirit. 

198 ODYSSEY • BOOK XII [325- 

And now for a whole month the South Wind blew without a 
pause, and after that we had nothing but southerly and easterly 
winds. The men, so long as their bread and red wine lasted, kept 
their hands off the cattle as they valued their lives. But when the 
provisions in the ship gave out and the pangs of hunger sent 
them wandering with barbed hooks in quest of game, fishes or 
birds, or anything that might come to hand, I went off inland to 
pray to the gods in the hope that one of them might show me a 
way of escape. When I had gone far enough across the island to 
be clear of the rest, I found a spot that was sheltered from the 
wind, washed my hands, and made my supplications to the 
whole company on Olympus. But all they did was to cast me 
into a pleasant sleep. And in the meantime Eurylochus was 
broaching a wicked scheme to his mates. 

‘ “My poor long-suffering friends,” he said, “listen to what I 
have to say. To us wretched men all forms of death are abomin¬ 
able, but death by starvation is the most miserable end that one 
can meet. So I suggest that we round up the best of the Sun’s 
cows and slaughter them in honour of the immortals who live 
in the broad sky. If ever we reach our homeland in Ithaca, our 
first act shall be to build Hyperion the Sun-god a rich temple 
and fill it with precious offerings. If, on the other hand, he shows 
annoyance at this treatment of his straight-homed herds and 
chooses to wreck our ship, with the other gods to back him, I 
would sooner make one gulp at the sea and give up the ghost 
than be pinched to death by slow degrees upon a desert isle.” 

‘His ideas found favour with the rest, and they proceeded at 
once to round up the pick of the Sun’s cattle. They had not far 
to go, for the fine fatted cows with their broad foreheads were 
often to be seen at their pasture in the neighbourhood of our 
blue-prowed ship. The men gathered round the cattle and made 
their prayers to the gods, using for the ceremony some full- 
grown leaves they stripped from a tall oak-tree, since they had 
no white barley in the ship. Their prayers done, they slit the 
cows’ throats and flayed them, then cut out slices from the 
thighs, wrapped them in folds of fat and laid raw meat above 


them. And since they had no wine to pour over the burning 
sacrifice, they made libations with water as they roasted all the 
entrails. When the thighs were burnt up and they had tasted the 
inner parts, they carved the rest into small pieces and spitted 
them on skewers. 

‘They had reached this point when I suddenly awoke from 
my deep sleep, and started on my way back to the vessel and the 
coast. Directly I came near my good ship the sweet smell of 
roasting meat was wafted to my nostrils. I exclaimed in horror 
and called on the immortal gods to hear me. “Father Zeus, ,, I 
cried, “and you other blessed gods who live for ever! So it was 
to ruin me that you lulled me into that cruel sleep, while the men 
I left conceived and did this hideous thing I ” 

‘The news that we had killed his cattle was promptly con¬ 
veyed by Lampetie of the long robes to the Sun-god Hyperion; 
and he was quick to voice his outraged feelings to the immortals. 

‘ “Father Zeus and you other happy gods who live for ever, I 
call on you to punish the followers of Odysseus son ofLaertes. 
They have had the insolence to kill my cattle, the cattle that gave 
me such joy every day as I climbed the sky to put the stars to 
flight and as I dropped from heaven and sank once more to 
earth. If they do not repay me in full for my slaughtered cows, 

I will go down to Hades and shine among the dead/’ 

‘ “ Sun,” the Cloud-gatherer answered him, “ shine on for the 
immortals and for mortal men on the fruitful earth. As for the 
culprits, I will soon strike their ship with a blinding bolt out on 
the wine-dark sea and break it to bits. ’ 

* This part of the tale I had from the fair Calypso, who told me 
that she herself had heard it from Hermes the Messenger. 

‘When I had come down to the sea and reached the ship, I 
confronted my men one after the other and rebuked them. But 
we could find no way of mending matters: the cows were dead 
and gone. And the gods soon began to visit my crew with por¬ 
tents. The hides crawled; the meat, roast and raw, groaned on 
the spits; and a sound as though of lowing cattle could be heard. 
‘For six days those good men of mine feasted on the pick of 

200 ODYSSEY * BOOK XII [398- 

the Sun’s cattle they had driven in. But when Zeus brought the 
seventh day round, the fury of the gale abated, and we quickly 
embarked and put out into the open sea after stepping the mast 
and hauling the white sail up. 

‘When we had left the island astern and no other land, nor 
anything but sky and water was to be seen, Zeus brought a 
sombre cloud to rest above the ship so that the sea was darkened 
by its shadow. Before she had run very far, a howling wind sud¬ 
denly sprang up from the west and hit us with hurricane force. 
The squall snapped both forestays together. As the mast fell aft, 
all the rigging tumbled into the bilge, and the mast itself, reach¬ 
ing the stem, struck the helmsman on the head and smashed in 
all the bones ofhis skull. He plunged like a diver from the poop, 
and his brave soul left his body. Then at one and the same mo¬ 
ment Zeus thundered and struck the vessel by lightning. The 
whole ship reeled to the blow of his bolt and was filled with 
sulphur. My men were flung overboard and tossed round the 
black hull like sea-gulls on the waves. There was no home¬ 
coming for them: the god saw to that. 

‘Meanwhile I kept shifting from one part of the ship to an¬ 
other, till a great wave tore her sides from her keel, which the 
seas then swept along denuded ofits ribs. They even snapped the 
mast off close to the keel, but as the backstay, which was a 
leather rope, had fallen across the mast, I used it to lash mast and 
keel together, and astride these two timbers I became the sport 
of the furious winds. 

‘The storm that had blown up from the west subsided soon 
enough, but was quickly followed by more wind from the 
south, to my great distress, for this meant that I should have once 
more to run the gauntlet of the dread Charybdis. All through 
the night I was swept along, and at sunrise found myselfback at 
Scylla’s rock and that appalling whirlpool. Charybdis was be¬ 
ginning to suck the salt water down. But as she did so, I was 
flung right up to the great fig-tree, on which I got a tight grip 
and clung like a bat. I could find no foothold to support me, nor 
any means of climbing into the tree, for its roots were far away 


below, and the great long branches that overshadowed Charyb- 
dis stretched high above my head. However, I stuck grimly on 
until such time as she should spew me up my mast and keel once 
more. My hope wasjustified, though they came up very late, in 
fact not till the time when a judge with a long list of disputes to 
settle between obstinate litigants rises from court for his evening 
meal. Then at last the timbers reappeared on the surface of the 
pool. I flung my arms and legs down for a plunge, and with a 
splash fell in the water clear of the great logs, which I then be¬ 
strode and rowed along with my hands. And thanks to the 
Father of men and gods I was spared another sight of Scylla. 
Otherwise nothing could have saved me from certain death. 

4 Nine days of drifting followed; but in the night of the tenth 
the gods washed me up on the Isle of Ogygia, the home of the 
fair Calypso, that formidable goddess with a woman’s voice; 
and she received me kindly and looked after me. But why go 
again through all this? Only yesterday I told you and your 
noble consort the whole story here in your house, and it goes 
against the grain with me to repeat a tale already plainly told/ 



Odysseus’ tale was finished, and such was the spell he had cast 
on the whole company that not a sound was heard throughout 
the shadowy hall, till at last Alcinous turned to his guest and 
said: ‘Odysseus, you have suffered much. But now that you 
have set foot on the bronze floor of my great house I feel assured 
that you will reach your home without any further wanderings 
from your course. As for you, sirs, here are my wishes - let them 
stand as an order to every one of you that frequent my palace to 
drink the sparkling wine of the elders and enjoy the minstrel’s 
song. I know that the clothing, gold ornaments, and other pre¬ 
sents that our counsellors brought in are already laid by for our 
guest in a wooden strong-box. I now suggest that we each give 
him a large tripod and a cauldron. Later we will recoup our¬ 
selves by a tax on the people, since it would be hard on us singly 
to have to make so generous a donation.’ 

His proposal was approved and all went home to their beds. 
But as soon as Dawn had flecked the morning sky with red, they 
came bustling down to the ship with their welcome bronze- 
ware gifts, and the great King Alcinous himself went up and 
down the vessel, stowing them carefully under the benches, so 
as not to hamper any of the ship’s hands as they tugged at the 
oars. This done, they repaired for a banquet to Alcinous’ house, 
and for their entertainment the divine king sacrificed a bullock 
to Zeus of the Black Cloud, the son of Cronos, who is lord of all. 
They burnt the thighs and settled down happily to a splendid 
feast, while in their midst the people’s favourite, Demodocus, 
that admirable bard, sang to the music ofhis harp. But Odysseus 
kept turning his face toward the blazing sun, as though to hasten 
its descent, for he was longing to be off. And as the ploughman, 
whose two dun oxen have pulled the ploughshare through the 


fallow all day long, yearns for his supper and welcomes the 
sunset that frees him to seek it and drag home his weary legs, so 
did Odysseus welcome the setting of the sun that day. No sooner 
was it down than he appealed to his sailor hosts, and to Alcinous 
in particular: 

‘Lord Alcinous, my most worshipful prince, make your 
drink-offerings now and see me safely off. And may every bless¬ 
ing be yours! For now my dearest wish has been fulfilled: I have 
secured your escort and I have your friendly gifts. May the gods 
in heaven allow me to enjoy them, and may I find my wife and 
dear ones safe and sound in my home when I reach it. As for you 
that I leave here, may you all bring happiness to your good wives 
and to your children; and may the gods prosper you in every 
way and keep your people from harm! * 

This speech of Odysseus pleased the whole company. They 
felt the justice ofhis claim and held that their guest should now 
be sent on his way. King Alcinous called to his squire. ‘Pon- 
tonous,’ he said, ‘mix a bowl of wine and serve everyone in the 
hall so that we can make a drink-offering to Father Zeus before 
seeing our visitor off to the land ofhis birth/ Pontonous mixed 
the mellow wine, went his rounds and served each of the guests, 
who then made libations to the blessed gods that live in the far- 
flung heavens. All remained seated for this ritual except the gal¬ 
lant Odysseus, who rose from his chair, put his two-handled 
beaker in Arete’s hands, and made her this cordial adieu: ‘My 
Queen, here’s fortune all your life, until man’s common lot, old 
age and death, comes on you! I take my leave of you now. May 
your house be blessed, and may you be happy in your children, 
your people, and Alcinous your king!* 

With this the noble Odysseus stepped across the threshold. 
King Alcinous ordered an equerry to accompany him and lead 
him to the good ship and the sea-shore, while Arete sent with 
him a party of serving-women, one with a clean mantle and a 
tunic, and another to carry his strong-box, while a third con¬ 
veyed his bread and the red wine. 

When they had come down to the ship and the sea, the young 



[ 71 - 

nobles who were to escort him took charge of his baggage, in¬ 
cluding all the food and drink, and stowed it in the hold. Foj 
Odysseus himself they spread a rug and sheet on the ship’s deck 
well aft, so that he might enjoy unbroken sleep. Then he toe 
climbed on board and quietly lay down, while the crew found 
their seats on the benches like men drilled to their work and un¬ 
tied the cable from the pierced stone that held it. But no sooner 
had they swung back and struck the water with their blades than 
sweet oblivion sealed Odysseus’ eyes in sleep delicious and pro¬ 
found, the very counterfeit of death. And now, like a team of 
four stallions on the plain who start as one horse at the touch of 
the whip and break into their bounding stride to make short 
work of the course, the ship lunged forward, and above the 
great dark wave that the sea sent roaring in her wake her stem 
began to rise and fall. With unfaltering speed she forged ahead, 
and not even the wheeling falcon, the fastest thing that flies, 
could have kept her company. Thus she sped lightly on, cut¬ 
ting her way through the waves and carrying a man wise as 
the gods are wise, who in long years of war on land and wander¬ 
ing across the cruel seas had suffered many agonies of spirit but 
now was lapped in peaceful sleep, forgetting all he had once 

When the brightest of all stars came up, the star which often 
ushers in the tender light of Dawn, the ship’s voyage was done 
and she drew near to Ithaca. Now in that island is a cove named 
after Phorcys, the Old Man of the Sea, with two bold headlands 
squatting at its mouth so as to protect it from the heavy swell 
raised by rough weather in the open and allow large ships to ride 
inside without so much as tying up, once within mooring dis¬ 
tance of the shore. At the head of the cove grows a long-leaved 
olive-tree and near by is a cavern that offers welcome shade and 
is sacred to the Nymphs whom we call Naiads. This cave con¬ 
tains a number of stone basins and two-handled j ar s, which are 
used by bees as their hives; also great looms of stone where the 
Nymphs weave marvellous fabrics of sea-purple; and there are 
springs whose water never fails. It has two mouths. The one 


that looks north is the way down for men. The other, facing 
south, is meant for the gods; and as immortals come in by this 
way it is not used by men at all. 

It was here that the Phaeacians put in, knowing the spot; and 
such was the headway of the ship, rowed by those able hands, 
that when she drove against the shore a full half of her keel’s 
length mounted the beach. They rose from the benches, jumped 
out, and made it their first task to lift Odysseus, sheet, glossy 
rug and all, out of the gallant ship and deposit him on the sand 
still fast asleep. Next they took out all the treasures which 
Athene’s generous impulse had caused their noble countrymen 
to give him when he left for home. These they stacked in a pile 
by the trunk of the olive-tree, well away from the path, lest 
some passer-by should happen to come upon them before he 
awoke and rob him. This done, they set out for home. 

Meanwhile the Lord of the Earthquake, who had by no 
means forgotten the threats he had once uttered against the 
noble Odysseus, tried to find out what purpose was in Zeus’ 
mind. ‘ Father Zeus,’ he said, ‘ the immortal gods will think no¬ 
thing of me, flouted as I am by mortal men, by these Phaeacians, 
I mean, who after all are sprung from my own stock. I said that 
Odysseus should suffer much before he reached his home, 
though I never put a final ban on his return, once you had 
promised it and nodded your assent. But now these people have 
brought him over the sea in their good ship and landed him 
asleep in Ithaca, after showering gifts upon him, gifts of copper, 
gold, and woven stuffs in such profusion as he could never have 
won for himself from Troy, even if he had come back unhurt 
with his fair share of the spoils.’ 

‘Imperial Earthshaker,’ replied the Gatherer of the Clouds, 
‘your fears are preposterous! The gods are innocent of all irre¬ 
verence towards you. Indeed it would be an abominable thing 
for them to scoff at the eldest and best of their company. As for 
mankind, if anyone thinks himself powerful enough to slight 
you, you have all the future in which to take your revenge. You 
are free to please yourself: act as you see fit.* 

20 6 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIII [146- 

4 Lord of the Black Cloud/ Poseidon answered him, ‘I should 
promptly have done as you say but for my ingrained deference 
to your will and dread of your resentment. Now, however, I 
propose to wreck that fine ship of the Phaeacians on the high 
seas as she comes back from her mission, to teach them to hold 
their hands and give up this habit of escorting travellers. And I 
will also fence their town with a ring of high mountains/ 

‘My friend/ said the Gatherer of the Clouds, ‘this is what I 
think best. Choose the moment when all eyes in the city are 
fixed on the ship’s approach to turn her into a rock off-shore, 
and let this rock look like a ship, so that all the world may 
wonder. Then throw a circle of high mountains round their 

With this encouragement from Zeus, Poseidon made for 
Scherie, where the Phaeacians live; and there he bode his time 
till the approaching ship, making good headway, showed in the 
offing. The Earthshaker then went up to her and with one blow 
from the flat ofhis hand turned her into stone and rooted her to 
the sea-bottom, where he left her. 

The Phaeacian spectators, oarsmen themselves and seamen of 
repute, looked at each other and cried out in their amazement. 

‘ Who in heaven’s name/ they asked, ‘ has stopped our good ship 
out at sea as she was making port? Only a moment ago we could 
see every spar/ 

They might well ask, for they had no inkling of what had 
happened till Alcinous explained. 

‘Alas! ’ he cried. ‘ My father’s prophecy oflong ago has indeed 
come home to me! He used to maintain that Poseidon resented 
our giving safe-conduct to all and sundry, and he foretold that 
one day he would wreck one of our fine ships on the high seas as 
she was returning from such a mission, and would overshadow 
our city with a ring ofhigh mountains. Now all these prophecies 
of the old king’s are coming true! But listen: I have remedies to 
suggest, which I hope you will all accept. For the future give 
up your custom of seeing home any traveller who comes to 
our city; and for the present let us sacrifice twelve picked 


bulls to Poseidon. He may take pity on us and refrain from 
hemming in our town with a long mountain range.’ They were 
filled with consternation and at once prepared the bulls for 

Thus the chieftains and counsellors of the Phaeacian people 
were gathered round the altar and interceding with the Lord 
Poseidon at the moment when the good Odysseus awoke from 
sleep on his native soil. After so long an absence, he failed to re¬ 
cognize it; for the goddess, Pallas Athene, Daughter of Zeus, 
had thrown a mist over the place to give herself time to make 
plans with Odysseus and disguise him, so that he would not be 
recognized by his wife and friends or the people of the town 
before the Suitors had paid for all their crimes. As a result every¬ 
thing in Ithaca, the long hill-paths, the quiet bays, the beetling 
rocks, and the green trees, seemed unfamiliar to its King. He 
leapt to his feet and stood staring at his native land. Then he 
groaned, and slapping his thighs with the flat ofhis hands gave 
vent to his disappointment: 

‘Alas! Whose country have I come to now? Are they some 
brutal tribe of lawless savages, or a kindly and god-fearing 
people? Where shall I put all these goods of mine, and where on 
earth am I myself to go? If only I had stayed there with the 
Phaeacians! Then I could have gone on to some other powerful 
prince, who might have received me well and seen me on my 
way. As it is, I have not the least idea where to stow them, and I 
certainly can’t leave them here, or someone else will make free 
with my property. And what a blow to find that those Phaea¬ 
cian lords and chieftains are not exactly the wise and honest men 
I took them for! They say they will put me down in my own 
sunny Ithaca, and then they carry me off to this outlandish spot. 
A broken promise - for which I pray they may be punished by 
Zeus, the suppliants’ god, who watches all mankind and pun¬ 
ishes offenders. But now I had better count my belongings and 
make sure that the crew have not robbed me and carried some¬ 
thing off in the hold of their ship.’ 

He proceeded to check his fine tripods and cauldrons, his gold 


and his splendid woven fabrics, and found not a single item miss 
ing. But this did not console him for the homeland he hai 
sought, and weeping bitterly he dragged his feet along the shor 
of the sounding sea. 

Athene now appeared upon the scene. She had disguised her¬ 
self as a young shepherd, with all the delicate beauty that mark 
the sons ofkings. A handsome cloak was folded back across hei 
shoulders, her feet shone white between the sandal-straps, and 
she carried a javelin in her hand. She was a welcome sight to 
Odysseus, who came forward at once and accosted her eagerly, 
‘Good-day to you, sir/ he said. ‘ Since you are the first person I 
have met in this place, I hope to find no enemy in you, but the 
saviour of my treasures here and ofmy very life; and so I pray to 
you as I should to a god and kneel at your feet. But what I beg of 
you first is to tell me exactly where I am. What part of the world 
is this ? What is the country called and who live here? Is is one of 
the sunny islands or is it one of those coastal tracts that run down 
from the rich mainland to meet the sea?’ 

4 Sir/ said the goddess of the gleaming eyes, ‘you must be a 
simpleton or have travelled very far from your home to ask me 
what this country is. It has a name by no means so inglorious as 
that. In fact it is known to thousands, to all the peoples of the 
dawn and sunrise and all that live on the other side toward the 
western gloom. I grant that it is rugged and unfit for driving 
horses, yet narrow though it may be it is very far from poor. It 
grows abundant com and wine in plenty. The rains and the 
fresh dews are never lacking; and it has excellent pasturage for 
goats and cattle, timber of all kinds, and watering-places that 
never fail. And so, my friend, the name of Ithaca has travelled 
even as far as Troy; and that, they say, is a good long way from 

Odysseus’ patient heart leapt up as the divine Pallas Athene 
told him this, and he revelled in the knowledge that he was on 
his native soil. He answered her readily enough, but not with 
the truth. It had been on the tip ofhis tongue, but loyal as ever 
to his own crafty nature he contrived to keep it back. 


‘Of course,’ he said, ‘I heard tell of Ithaca even over there 
across the seas in the spacious land of Crete. And now I have 
come here myself with all these goods of mine, leaving the 
other half of my fortune to my children. For I had to take to my 
heels. I had killed Idomeneus’ son, the great runner Orsilochus, 
who was faster on his feet than any living man in the whole 
island of Crete. He tried to fleece me of all the spoil I had won at 
Troy, my wages for the long-drawn agonies of war and all the 
miseries that sea-travel means, merely because I refused to curry 
favour with his father by serving as his squire at Troy and pre¬ 
ferred to lead my own command. So with a friend at my side I 
laid an ambush for him close to the road, and let fly at him with 
my bronze spear as he was coming in from the country. There 
was a pitch-black sky that night and not a soul saw us; so no one 
knew that it was I who’d killed him. However, with the man’s 
blood fresh on my hands, I hastily sought out a Phoenician ship, 
threw myself on the mercy ofits honest crew, and with a liberal 
donation from my booty persuaded them to take me on board 
and set me down in Pylos or the good land of Elis, where the 
Epeians rule. But as things turned out, the wind was too strong 
for them and drove them off their course, much to their distress, 
for they had no wish to disappoint me. We beat about for a 
time, and in the night we made this island and rowed the ship 
helter-skelter into harbour. And though we stood in sore need 
of it, not a man among us thought ofhis supper; we all tumbled 
out of the ship and lay downjust as we were. I was so exhausted 
that I fell sound asleep. Meanwhile the crew fetched my goods 
out of the good ship and dumped them down on the sand where 
I lay. After which they embarked once more and set sail for 
their own fine city of Sidon, leaving me and my troubles 

The bright-eyed goddess smiled at Odysseus’ tale and caressed 
him with her hand. Her appearance altered, and now she looked 
like a woman, tall, beautiful, and accomplished. And when she 
replied to him she abandoned her reserve. 

4 What a cunning knave it would take,’ she said, ‘to beat 



you at your tricks! Even a god would be hard put to it. 

_ Aftd so my stubborn friend, Odysseus the arch-deceiver, 
with his craving for intrigue, does not propose even in his own 
country to drop his sharp practice and the lying tales that he 
loves from the bottom of his heart. But no more of this: we are 
both adepts in chicane. For in the world of men you have no 
rival as a statesman and orator, while I am pre-eminent among 
the gods for invention and resource. 

And yet you did not know me, Pallas Athene, Daughter of 
Zeus, who always stand by your side and guard you through all 
your adventures. Why, it was I who made all the Phaeacians 
teke to you so kindly. And here I am once more, to p lan your 
fumre course with you; to hide the treasures that the Phaeacian 
nobles, prompted by me, gave to you when you left for home, 
and to warn you of all the trials you will have to undergo within 
the walls of your palace. Bear these with patience, for bear 
you must. Tell not a single person in the place, man or woman, 
that you are back from your wanderings; but endure all vexa¬ 
tions m silence and submit yourself to the indignities that will 
be put upon you.’ 

Odysseus was ready with his answer. ‘Goddess,’he said,‘it is 

harci for a man to recognize you at sight, however knowledge¬ 
able he may be, for you have a way of donning all kinds of 
disguise. But thislknow well, thatyou weregracious to mein 

eo days so long as we Achaeans were campaigning at Troy. 

et when we had sacked Priam’s lofty citadel and gone on board 
our ships, and a god had scattered the Achaean fleet, I did not 
notice you then, Daughter of Zeus, nor see you set foot on my 
ship to save me from any of my ordeals. No; I was left to wander 
through the world with a stricken heart, till the gods put a term 
to my sufferings and the day came, in the rich land of the 
Phaeacians, when you comforted me with your talk and your- 
e me to dt y. But now I beseech you in your 
/T; l ““ 1 ““x* think that I have come to my 

cn “\ b - feel that 1 must be at lar g e hi some foreign 
country and that you must have said what you did in a spirit of 


mockery to lead me astray -1 beseech you to tell me, am I really 
back in my own beloved land?’ 

‘ How like you to be so wary! ’ said Athene. ‘And that is why I 
cannot desert you in your misfortunes: you are so civilized, so 
intelligent, so self-possessed. Any other man on returning from 
his travels would have rushed home in high spirits to see his child¬ 
ren and his wife. You, on the contrary, are in no hurry even to 
ask questions and to learn the news. No; with your own eyes 
you must first make sure of your wife - who, by the way, does 
nothing but sit at home with her eyes never free from tears as 
the slow nights and days pass sorrowfully by. 

‘As for your home-coming, I myself was never in any doubt: 
I knew in my heart that you would get back with the loss of all 
your men. But you must understand that I was not prepared 
to oppose my uncle Poseidon, who was highly incensed when 
you blinded his own son and has cherished his grudge against 
you. And now, to convince you, let me show you the Ithacan 
scene. Here is the harbour ofPhorcys, the Old Man of the Sea; 
and there at the head of the haven is the long-leaved olive-tree 
with the cave near by, the pleasant shady spot that is sacred to 
the Nymphs whom men call Naiads. Over there you can see its 
vaulted roof- it will put you in mind of many a solemn sacrifice 
you have made there to the Nymphs - while the forest-clad 
slopes behind are those of Mount Neriton/ 

As she spoke the goddess dispersed the mist, and the country¬ 
side stood plain to view. And now joy came at last to the gallant 
long-suffering Odysseus. So happy did the sight ofhis own land 
make him that he kissed the generous soil, then with uplifted 
hands invoked the Nymphs: ‘And I had thought, you Nymphs 
of the Springs, you Daughters of Zeus, that I should never set 
my eyes on you again! Accept my greetings and my loving 
prayers. Gifts too will follow as in days gone by, if through the 
kindness of this warrior Child of Zeus I am allowed to live and 
see my son grow up/ 

‘Be bold/ said Athene of the flashing eyes, ‘and dismiss all 
such doubts from your heart. Our immediate task is to hide your 

212 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIII [ 363 - 

goods in some comer of this haunted cave where they may lie m 
safety. After that we must decide on our best course for the 

The goddess now plunged into the gloom of the cavern to 
explore it for a hiding-place, while Odysseus made haste to 
bring in all his belongings, the gold, the indestructible coppei 
and the fine fabrics the Phaeacians had given him. After he had 
stowed them carefully away, Pallas Athene, Daughter of Zeus, 
closed the entrance with a stone. 

The pair then sat down by the trunk of the sacred olive-tree 
to scheme the downfall of the presumptuous Suitors, and the 
bright-eyed goddess put the case to Odysseus. ‘Royal son of 
Laertes/ she said, ‘you are a man of resource. Consider now how 
you will come to grips with this gang of profligates who for 
three whole years have been lording it in your palace, paying 
court to your incomparable wife and tempting her -with mar¬ 
riage settlements. All this time she has pined for your home¬ 
coming, and though she has given them all some grounds for 
hope and doled out promises in private messages to each, her 
real wishes are very different/ 

‘Alas! * cried Odysseus of the nimble wits. ‘ It seems to me that 
I should have come to the same miserable end as King Agamem¬ 
non directly I set foot in my home, if you, goddess, had not 
made all this clear to me. I beseech you to think of some way by 
which I could pay these miscreants out. And take your stand at 
my side, filling me with the spirit that dares all, as you did on the 
day when we pulled down Troy’s shining diadem of towers. 
Ah, Lady of the bright eyes, if only you would aid me with such 
vehemence as you did then, I could fight against three hundred, 
with you beside me, sovran goddess, and with your whole¬ 
hearted help to count on!’ 

‘ Indeed I will stand at your side,’ Athene answered. ‘ I shall not 
forget you when the time comes for this task of ours. As for 
those Suitors who are wasting your fortune, I can already see 
them staining your broad floors with their own blood and 
brains. But now to work! I am going to change you beyond 


recognition. I shall wither the smooth skin on those supple 
limbs of yours and rob your head of its auburn locks; I shall 
clothe you in rags from which people will shrink in disgust; 
and I shall take all the light out of those fine eyes that you have 
- all this to make the whole gang of Suitors and even your wife 
and the son you left at home take you for a disreputable vaga¬ 
bond. And now for your part - the first man you must approach 
is the swineherd in charge of your pigs. His loyal heart is on your 
side as firmly as ever, and he loves your son and your wise queen 
Penelope. You will find him watching over his swine out at 
theirpastures by the Raven’s Crag and at the Spring ofArethusa, 
where they find the right fodder to make them fat and healthy 
pigs, feeding on the acorns they love and drinking water from 
deep pools. Stay there, sit down with the old man, and question 
him about the whole affair. Meanwhile I shall go to Sparta, the 
city of fair women, to summon Telemachus, your own son, 
Odysseus, who, I must tell you, has travelled to the broad vale 
ofLacedaemon and visited Menelaus in the hope of getting on 
your track and finding out if you are still alive.’ 

Odysseus replied with a shrewd question: ‘But why, in your 
omniscience, did you not tell him the truth? Do you want him 
too to scour the barren seas in misery while strangers eat him 
out of ho use and home?’ 

‘You need not be alarmed for him/ the bright-eyed goddess 
answered. ‘I myself arranged the journey for him, feeling that 
the adventure would redound to his credit. He is in no diffi¬ 
culties, but is sitting quite at ease in Menelaus’ palace, in the lap 
ofluxury. It is true that those young men in their black ship have 
laid an ambush for him on his journey home, with murder in 
their hearts. But I have an idea that they will not succeed. No; 
sooner than that, the earth will close over some of these gallants 
who are wasting your wealth.’ 

Athene touched him now with her wand. She withered the 
smooth skin on his supple limbs, robbed his head of its auburn 
locks, covered his whole body with the wrinkles of old age, and 
dimmed the light that shone in his beautiful eyes. His clothing 

214 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIII [434- 

too she changed into a shabby cloak and tunic, filthy rags be¬ 
grimed by smoke. Over his back she threw the great bald hide 
of a nimble stag; and finally she gave him a staff and a mean and 
tattered knapsack with a shoulder-strap. 

Their plans prepared, the two parted company, and Athene 
went off to the sacred land of Lacedaemon to fetch Odysseus* 



Meanwhile Odysseus turned his back on the harbour and 
followed a rough track leading up into the woods and through 
the hills towards the spot where Athene had told him he would 
meet the worthy swineherd, who of all the royal servants had 
shown himself to be his most faithful steward. 

He found him sitting in front of his homestead in the farm¬ 
yard, whose high walls, perched on an eminence and protected 
by a clearing, enclosed a fine and spacious court. The herdsman 
had made it himself for his absent master’s swine, without help 
from his mistress or the aged Laertes, building the wall of quar¬ 
ried stone with a hedge of wild-pear on top. As an additional 
protection outside he had fenced the whole length on either 
hand with a closely set stockade made of split oak which he had 
taken from the dark heart of the logs. Inside the yard, to house 
the pigs at night, he had put twelve sties, all near to one another, 
in each of which fifty sows slept on the ground and had their 
litters. The boars lay outside the yard; and of these there were 
far fewer, since their numbers suffered constant inroads at the 
banquets of the courting noblemen, for whom the swineherd 
used at regular intervals to send down the pick ofhis fatted hogs. 
Yet there were three hundred and sixty of them still. They were 
guarded every night by four fierce and powerful dogs, trained 
by the swineherd’s master hand. 

He himself was busy cutting a piece of good brown leather 
and fitting a pair of sandals to his feet, while his mates had gone 
afield in various directions with the pigs to their pastures - three 
of them, that is to say, for he had been obliged to send the fourth 
to town with a hog for the rollicking Suitors to slaughter so that 
they might gorge themselves with pork. 

The noisy dogs suddenly caught sight of Odysseus and flew at 

21 6 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIV [30- 

him, barking loudly. He had the presence of mind to sit down 
and drop his staff; yet he would have come to grief then and 
there, at his own farm, if the swineherd had not intervened. Let¬ 
ting the leather fall from his fingers in his haste, he dashed 
through the gateway, shouted at the dogs and sent them flying 
with a shower of stones. 

* Old man/ he said to his master, ‘that was a narrow escape! 
The dogs would have made short work of you, and the blame 
would have fallen on me. As though the gods hadn’t done 
enough already to pester and torment me! Here I sit, yearning 
and mourning for the best of masters and fattening his hogs for 
others to eat, while he himself, starving as like as not, is lost in 
foreign lands and tramping through strange towns -if indeed 
he is still alive and can see the light of day. However, follow me, 
sir, to my cabin, to join me in my meal. When you have had all 
the bread and wine you want, you shall tell me where you come 
from and what your troubles are/ 

The friendly herdsman led the way to his cabin, ushered 
Odysseus in and bade him be seated on some brushwood that he 
piled up for him and covered with the shaggy skin of a wild 
goat, large and thick enough to serve as his own mattress. 
Odysseus was delighted by this welcome and did not hide his 

‘My good host/ he said, ‘I hope Zeus and the other gods will 
reward you with your heart’s desire for receiving me so kindly/ 

‘ Sir/ said the swineherd Eumaeus, ‘ my conscience would not 
let me turn away a stranger in a worse state even than yourself, 
for strangers and beggars all come in Zeus’ name, and a gift 
from folk like us is none the less welcome for being small. Serfs, 
after all, can do no better, so long as they go in fear of their lords 
and masters. I mean these new ones; for as for my old master, 
the gods have fixed it that he shan’t get home. He would have 
looked after me properly and pensioned me off with a cottage 
and a bit of land, and an attractive wife, as a kind master does for 
a servant who has worked hard for him and whose work heaven 
has prospered, as it prospers the job I toil at here. Yes, the King 


would have rewarded me well for this, had he grown old in 
Ithaca. But he is dead and gone. And I wish I could say the same 
ofHelen and all her breed, for she brought many a good man to 
his knees. My master too was one of those who went to Ilium to 
fight the Trojan charioteers in Agamemnon’s cause.’ 

The swineherd broke off, hitched up his tunic in his belt, and 
went out to the sties where the young porkers were penned in 
batches. He selected two, carried them in, and slaughtered them 
both. Next he singed them, chopped them up, and skewered the 
meat. When he had roasted it all, he served it up piping hot on 
the spits, set it in front of Odysseus, and sprinkled it with white 
barley-meal. He then mixed some mellow wine in a bowl of 
olive-wood, took a seat facing his guest, and invited him to eat. 

‘ Stranger,’ he said, ‘fall to on these porkers, which are all we 
serfs can offer you. For our fatted hogs are eaten up by the 
Suitors, who have no fear of the wrath to come and no com¬ 
punction in their hearts. Yet the blessed gods don’t like foul 
play. Decency and moderation are what they respect in men. 
Even bloodthirsty pirates, when they’ve raided a foreign coast 
and had the luck to carry off some loot, are haunted by the fear 
of retribution as they make for home with their ships full of 
plunder. So I can’t help thinking that these Suitors have some¬ 
how discovered, maybe through some heaven-sent rumour, 
that my master has come to a disastrous end - which explains 
why they will neither pay court to his widow in the regular way 
nor go home and mind their own business, but sit there instead 
at their ease and eat up all his livelihood in this high-handed 
style with no thought for economy. For I tell you they slaughter 
beasts every blessed day and night, never contenting them¬ 
selves with one or even two at a time; while the amount of wine 
they draw and waste is disgraceful. My master, you see, was 
enormously wealthy; there wasn’t a lord on the black continent 
or in Ithaca itself to touch him. He’s worth more than twenty 
others rolled into one. Let me give you some idea. On the main¬ 
land, twelve herds of cattle, as many flocks of sheep, as many 
droves of pigs and as many scattered herds of goats, all tended 

218 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIV [l02- 

by hired labour or his own herdsmen; while here in Ithaca 
eleven herds of goats graze up and down the coast with reliable 
men to look after them. And every one of these men has day by 
day to choose the likeliest of his fatted goats and drive it in for 
the Suitors; while I, who tend and keep these swine, carefully 
pick out the best and send it down to them/ 

While Eumaeus was talking, Odysseus devoted himself to 
the meat and wine, which he consumed greedily and in silence, 
his brain teeming with thoughts of what he would do to the 
Suitors. When he had finished supper and refreshed himself, 
Eumaeus filled his own drinking-bowl and handed it to his 
master brimful of wine. Odysseus accepted with pleasure and 
now put a direct question to his host: 

‘ Tell me, my friend, who was the man who bought you with 
his wealth, this lord whom you describe as so exceedingly rich 
and powerful? You said he had lost his life in Agamemnon’s 
cause. Tell me his name. I may find that I can recognize him by 
your description. Heaven only knows whether I can tell you I’ve 
met him; but I’ve certainly seen a great deal of the world/ 
‘My dear sir/ answered this prince among swineherds, ‘no 
wanderer who comes here and claims to bring news of Odys¬ 
seus could convince his wife and son. Beggars in need of creature 
comforts find lying easy, and to tell a true tale is the last thing 
they wish. Whenever a tramp comes to Ithaca on his rounds he 
goes straight to my mistress with his artful talk. She welcomes 
him graciously and makes him tell his tale from first to last, 
while the tears of distress stream down her cheeks, as is natural 
for a woman whose husband has met his end abroad. Why, sir, 
you yourself would be quick enough to invent a tale if someone 
gave you a cloak and tunic to put on! As for my master, he is 
dead and gone: the dogs and the birds of the air must by now 
have tom the flesh from his bones; or the fish have eaten him in 
the sea, and his bones lie there on the shore with the sand piled 
high above them. Yes, that is how he met his end, and his death 
has meant nothing but trouble for his friends and for myself 
above all. For I shall never find so kind a master again wherever 




I may go, not even if I return to my parents' house, where I was 
bom and where they brought me up themselves. And much as I 
should like to be back in my own country and set eyes on them 
again, my longing for them has given place in my heart to over¬ 
whelming regret for the lost Odysseus. Yes, sir, even though he 
is not here, I hesitate to use his name. He loved me and took 
thought for me beyond all others. And so, though he is far away, 
I still think of him as my beloved lord.' 

‘ Friend,' said the patient Odysseus in reply, ‘ since you’ll have 
none of what I say, and since you have so little faith that you 
cannot believe he will ever return, I will not content myselfby 
merely stating that Odysseus is coming back, but I will swear it. 
Directly he comes and sets foot in his own house I claim the re¬ 
ward for the good news and you can dress me properly in a new 
cloak and tunic. But till that moment, destitute as I am, I will 
accept nothing; for I loathe like Hell’s Gates the man who is 
driven by poverty to lie. I swear now by Zeus before all other 
gods, and by the board ofhospitality, and by the good Odysseus’ 
hearth, which I am approaching, that everything will happen as 
I say. This very year Odysseus will be here. Between the waning 
of the old moon and the waxing of the new, he will come back 
to his home and will punish all that offer outrage there to his 
consort and his noble son.’ 

What answer did Eumaeus make to this? ‘ Old man,’ he said, 
‘that reward I shall never have to pay, nor will Odysseus ever 
come home again. But drink in peace and let us pass to other 
topics. Don’t remind me of my troubles, for I tell you my heart 
is wrung within me when anyone puts me in mind of my true 
king. As for your oath, let us forget it. And may Odysseus still 
come home, as I pray he will, and as Penelope does, and old 
Laertes and Prince Telemachus. Ah, there’s another cruel anxiety 
for me - Odysseus’ son Telemachus. The gods made him grow 
like a young sapling, and I had hoped to see him play no 
meaner a part in the world than his father, a paragon of manly 
beauty, when suddenly some god deprived him ofhis wits - or 
perhaps it was a man who fooled him - and offhe went to holy 




Pylos on his father’s trail. And now my lords the Suitors are 
lying in ambush for him on his way home, so that King 
Arceisius’ line may be wiped out oflthaca and the very name be 
forgotten. Well, we must leave him to his fate, whether they 
get him, or whether by god’s help he saves his skin. 

‘But now, my ancient friend, you must tell me about your 
own troubles and satisfy my curiosity. Who are you and where 
do you come from? What is your city? Who are your family? 
And since you certainly can’t have come on foot, what kind of 
vessel brought you here? How did its crew come to land you 
in Ithaca; and who did they claim to be?’ 

‘I will enlighten you on all these points,’ replied Odysseus, 
with his usual cunning. ‘But even supposing that you and I had 
an endless supply of food and wine, here in the hut, and so could 
eat in peace while the rest got on with the work, I should still 
find it easy to talk to you for a whole twelvemonth without 
coming to the end of my grievances and of all the hardships that 
heaven has made me endure. 

‘I am a native of the broad lands of Crete, and the son of a 
wealthy man. He had a number of other sons who, like me, 
were bom and brought up in the house; but they were the law¬ 
ful issue ofhis wife, whereas my mother was a concubine he had 
bought. In spite of this difference, Castor son ofHylax, to give 
my father his name, put me on an equal footing with his legiti¬ 
mate sons. The Cretans ofhis day respected and envied him for 
his good fortune, his riches, and his splendid children; but his 
time came, and Death bore him off to Hades’ Halls. His sons 
then split up the estate in their high-handed way and cast lots 
for the shares, assigning to me a meagre pittance and a house to 
match. However, I won a wife for myself from a rich family on 
the strength of my own merits, for I was neither a fool nor a 
coward. My glory has departed now, yet I think you will still be 
able to see by the stubble what the harvest was like. Since then I 
have been overwhelmed by troubles, but in the old days Ares 
and Athene had endowed me generously with the daring that 
sweeps all before it; and when it came to planning a bold stroke 

- 255 ] SN EUMAEUS* HUT 221 

against the enemy and I had picked my men for an ambush, my 
ardent spirits were never dashed by any foreboding of death, 
but I would leap out before all the rest and cut down with my 
spear any foeman who was slower on his feet than I. That was 
the kind of man I was in battle. But I did not like work, nor the 
domestic pursuits that make for a fine family. What I always 
loved was a ship with oars, and fighting, and polished javelins 
and arrows - terrible things, which make other people shudder. 
I suppose that in making such a choice Ijust followed my natural 
bent, for different men take kindly to very different ways of 
earning a living. Anyhow, before the Achaean expedition ever 
set foot on the coasts of Troy, I had nine times had my own 
command and led a well-found fleet against a foreign land. As a 
result, large quantities of loot fell into my hands. From these I 
used to select what I liked, and a great deal more came my way 
in the subsequent distributions. Thus my estate increased rapidly 
and my fellow-countrymen soon learned both to fear and re¬ 
spect me. The time came, however, when Zeus, who never 
takes his eyes off the world, let us in for that deplorable adven¬ 
ture which brought so many men to their knees; and they 
pressed me and the famous Idomeneus to lead the fleet to Ilium. 
There was no way of avoiding it: public opinion was too much 
for us. So for nine years we Achaeans campaigned at Troy; and 
after sacking Priam’s city in the tenth we sailed for home and 
our fleet was scattered by a god. But the inventive brain ofZeus 
was hatching more mischief than that for my unhappy self. I 
had spent only a month in the delights of home life with my 
children, my wife, and my wealth, when the spirit moved me to 
fit out some ships and sail for Egypt with a picked company. I 
got nine vessels ready and the crews were soon mustered. For 
six days my good men gave themselves up to festivity and I pro¬ 
vided beasts in plenty for their sacrifices and their own table. On 
the seventh we embarked, said goodbye to the broad acres of 
Crete and sailed off with a fresh and favourable wind from the 
north, which made our going as easy as though we were sailing 
down stream. Not a single one of my ships came to harm: we 



sat there safe and well while the wind and the steersmen kept 
them on their course. On the fifth day we reached the great 
River of Egypt, and there in the Nile I brought my curved ships 
to. And now I ordered my good men to stay by the ships on 
guard while I sent out some scouts to reconnoitre from the 
heights. But these ran amuck and in a trice, carried away by 
their own violence, they had plundered some of the fine 
Egyptian farms, borne off the women and children and killed 
the men. The hue and cry soon reached the city, and the towns¬ 
folk, roused by the alarm, turned out at dawn. The whole place 
was filled with infantry and chariots and the glint of arms. Zeus 
the Thunderer struck abject panic into my party. Not a man 
had the spirit to stand up to the enemy, for we were threatened 
on all sides. They ended by cutting down a large part of my 
force and carrying off the survivors to work for them as slaves. 
As for myself, a sudden inspiration saved me - though I still wish 
I had faced my destiny and fallen there in Egypt, for trouble was 
waiting for me yet with open arms. I quickly doffed my fine 
helmet, let the shield drop from my shoulder, and threw away 
my spear. Then I ran up to the king’s chariot and embraced his 
knees. Moved to pity, he spared my life, gave me a seat beside 
him, and so drove his weeping captive home. Many of his 
people, of course, were lusting for my blood and made at me 
with their ashen spears, for they were thoroughly roused; but 
he kept them away, for fear of offending Zeus, the Strangers’ 
god, whose special office it is to call cruelty to account. 

I passed seven years in the country and made a fortune out of 
the Egyptians, who were liberal with me one and all. But in the 
course of the eighth, I fell in with a rascally Phoenician, a thiev¬ 
ing knave who had already done a deal of mischief in the world. 

I was prevailed on by this specious rogue to join him in a voyage 
to Phoenicia, where he had a house and estate; and there I stayed 
with him for a whole twelvemonth. But when the days and 
months had mounted up, and a second year began its round of 
seasons, he put me on board a ship bound for Libya, on the pre¬ 
text of wanting my help with the cargo he was carrying, but 



really in order that he might sell me for a handsome sum when 
he got there. Full of suspicions but having no choice I followed 
him on board. With a good stiffbreeze from the north the ship 
took the central route and ran down the lee side of Crete. But 
Zeus had their end in store for them. When we had put Crete 
astern and no other land, nor anything but sky and water, was 
to be seen, he brought a dark cloud to rest above the ship. The 
sea below it was blackened. Zeus thundered and in the same mo¬ 
ment struck the vessel by lightning. The whole ship reeled to 
the blow ofhis bolt and was filled with sulphur. The men were 
all flung overboard and tossed round the black hull like sea- 
crows on the waves. There was no home-coming for them - the 
god saw to that. But in this hour of my affliction Zeus himself 
brought into my arms the great mast of the blue-prowed ship, 
so that I might even yet escape the worst. I coiled myself round 
it and became the sport of the accursed winds. For nine days I 
drifted, and on the tenth night, in pitch darkness, a great roller 
washed me up on the coast of Thesprotia, where my lord 
Pheidon, King of the Thesprotians, gave me free hospitality. 
His own son found me fainting from exposure and exhaustion, 
lent me a hand to help me up, and took me home with him 
to his father's palace, where he gave me a cloak and tunic to 
put on. 

Tt was there that I heard of Odysseus. The king told me that 
he had entertained and befriended him on his homeward way 
and showed me what a fortune in copper, gold, and wrought 
iron Odysseus had amassed. Why, the amount of treasure stored 
up for him there in the king's house would keep a man and his 
heirs to the tenth generation! He added that Odysseus had gone 
to Dodona to learn the will of Zeus from the great oak-tree that 
is sacred to the god, and to discover how he ought to approach 
his own rich island of Ithaca after so long an absence, whether 
to return openly or in disguise. Moreover, he swore in my pre¬ 
sence over a drink-offering in his own house that a ship was 
waiting on the beach with a crew standing by to convey Odys¬ 
seus to his own country. But he sent me off before him. For a 




Thesprotian ship happened to be starting for the com island of 
Dulichium, and he told its crew to carry me there, with every 
attention, and take me to Acastus, the King. 

e The crew, however, saw fit to hatch a plot against me, so that 
I might drain the cup of misery to the dregs. When the ship’s 
course over the sea had brought her well away from land they 
set about their scheme for reducing me to slavery. They stripped 
me of my own cloak and tunic and supplied their place with a 
filthy set of clothes, the very rags, in fact, which you see before 
you now. 

‘The evening sun was shining on the fields of Ithaca when 
they reached the island. They lashed me down tightly under the 
ship's benches with a stout rope, disembarked, and hastily took 
their supper on the beach. But the gods found no difficulty in 
untying my knots for me. I covered my head with my rags, 
slipped down the smooth lading-plank, gently breasted the 
water, and struck out with both hands. Nor had I far to swim 
before I was out of the sea at a safe distance from my foes. I then 
made my way inland to a thicket in full leaf and crouched down 
in hiding. They raised a great outcry and beat about, but soon 
decided that nothing was to be gained by prolonging their 
search, and so climbed on board their ship once more. The gods 
made it quite easy for me to remain unseen and ended by guid¬ 
ing my steps to the homestead of a decent man. From which I 
conclude that I am not yet meant to die/ 

My poor friend!’ exclaimed the swineherd. ‘You have cer¬ 
tainly touched my heart with your long tale of hardships and 
wandering. It is when you come to Odysseus that you go 
wrong, to my way of thinking; you won’t get me to believe 
that. What call is there for a man like you to pitch such silly 
yarns? As though I didn t know all about my master’s disap¬ 
pearance, and how the gods showed their utter detestation of 
the man by allowing him neither to fall in action against the 
Trojans nor to die in his friends’ arms when all the fighting was 
over. Had he done so, the whole Achaean nation would have 
joined in building him a mound, and he would have left a great 

- 405 ] IN EUMAEUS* HUT 22*5 

name for his son to inherit. But there was to be no glorious end 
for him: the Storm-Fiends have spirited him away. 

‘As for myself, I am a hermit here with my swine and never 
go to town, except perhaps when someone has blown in with 
news and the wise Penelope sees fit to invite me. On such occa¬ 
sions they all gather round the newcomer and ply him with 
questions, whether they belong to the party who are pining for 
their long-lost king or to those who have the satisfaction of feed¬ 
ing gratis at his expense. But I personally have lost all interest in 
such cross-examinations since the day when a fellow from 
Aetolia took me in with his tale. He had killed a man, and after 
roaming all over the world found his way to my doors. I re¬ 
ceived him kindly and was told by him that he had seen Odys¬ 
seus with Idomeneus in Crete, repairing the damage his fleet had 
suffered in a gale. “He will be back,” said he, “either in the 
summer or by autumn, bringing a fortune with him, and his 
gallant company too.” Take note of that, my distressful old 
friend, since the powers above have brought you here, and don’t 
try to wheedle your way to my heart with any falsehoods. It 
isn’t that sort of thing that will win you my regard or my 
favours, but the respect I have for the laws of hospitality and 
the pity that I feel for you.* 

But the cunning Odysseus persisted. ‘Surely,’ he said, ‘you 
have a very suspicious nature, if not even a sworn statement 
from me can bring you round and convince you of the truth. 
Come, let us make a bargain - with the gods of Olympus to see 
that both parties carry out its terms. If your master comes back 
to this house, you shall give me a cloak and tunic to wear and 
send me on to Dulichium, where I wanted to go. If on the other 
hand he does not return as I say he will, you shall set your men 
on me and have me thrown down from a precipice, just to teach 
the next beggar not to cheat.’ 

‘Yes,’ cried the worthy swineherd, ‘and what a fine name I 
should win for myself in the world, once and for all, if the first 
thing I did after taking you into my cabin and showing you hos¬ 
pitality was to rob you of your precious life! I should certainly 




have to put all I know into my prayers, if I did that. Howevei 
it’s supper-time, and I hope my men will be in before long, s< 
that we can get a square meal cooked in the house/ 

While the two were engaged in this conversation the herds 
men came up with their swine. The men drove the animals ii 
batches into their sties to sleep and the air was filled with the 
grunting of pigs settling down for the night. The worthy swine¬ 
herd gave a shout to his men. 4 Bring in the best of your hogs/he 
called. ‘I want to slaughter it, for a guest I have here from 
abroad. And we’ll enjoy it ourselves, after the way we Ve toiled 
and moiled for the porkers all this time, with other people living 
scot-free on our work/ 

He then chopped some firewood with his sharp axe, while his 
men dragged in a fatted five-year-old hog and brought it up to 
the hearth. The swineherd, who was a man of sound principles, 
did not forget the immortals, but began the ritual by throwing 
a tuft of hair from the white-tusked victim into the fire and 
praying to all the gods that the wise Odysseus might come back 
to his home. Then he drew himself up and struck the animal 
with a billet of oak which he had left unsplit. The hog fell dead. 
They slit its throat, singed its bristles, and deftly cut the carcass 
up. The swineherd took a first cut fiom all the limbs, laid the 
raw flesh on the rich fat, cast the whole into the flames and 
sprinkled barley-meal on top. Then they chopped up the rest of 
the meat, pierced it with skewers, roasted it thoroughly, and 
after drawing it off the spits heaped it up on platters. And now 
the swineherd, who had a nicejudgement in such matters, stood 
up to divide it into helpings. He carved and sorted it all out into 
seven portions, of which he set aside one, with a prayer, for the 
Nymphs and for Hermes, Maia’s son, and distributed the rest to 
the company. But he paid Odysseus the honour ofhelping him 
to the tusker s long chine. This courtesy warmed the heart of 
his master, who turned to him and said: ‘Eumaeus, I hope 
Father Zeus will look on you as kindly as I do for picking out the 
best portion for a poor fellow like me/ To which the swineherd 
Eumaeus replied: Fall to, my worthy guest, and enjoy such fare 

» 4 8 o] IN eumaeus’ hut 227 

as we can offer. It’s the way of the gods to bestow or withhold 
their favours according to their own sweet will - and there’s no¬ 
thing to prevent them/ Then he sacrificed the first cuts to the 
everlasting gods, and after making a libation of sparkling wine 
handed the cup to Odysseus, the sacker of cities, and sat down to 
his own portion. They were served with bread by Mesaulius, a 
servant whom Eumaeus had procured for himself during his 
master’s absence, acting without help from his mistress or the 
old Laertes and buying the man from the Taphians with his own 
resources. All fell to on the good fare spread before them, and 
when they had satisfied their hunger and thirst Mesaulius 
cleared away the food. Sated by now with bread and meat they 
began to think kindly of their beds. 

Foul weather set in with the dusk. There was no moon, rain 
fell all night, and a high wind blew from the west, always the 
wet quarter. So Odysseus decided to put the swineherd to the 
test and see whether his host’s very real consideration for him 
might not induce him either to part with his own cloak and let 
him have it, or to suggest this self-denial to one of his men. 

* Listen to me,’ he said. ‘ Eumaeus andyou men of his. I am going 
to put a wish of mine into the form ofa story. This is the effect of 
your wine - for wine is a crazy thing. It sets the wisest man sing¬ 
ing and giggling like a girl; it lures him on to dance and it makes 
him blurt out what were better left unsaid. However, I’ve set 
my tongue wagging now and I might as well go on. 

‘Ah, I wish I were still as young and strong as I was when we 
led that surprise attack against Troy! Odysseus and Menelaus 
were in charge, and at their own request I went in with them as 
third in command. When we came up to the frowning city 
walls we lay down round the place, crouching under our 
armour in the dense undergrowth of marshland reeds. The 
North wind dropped and a cruel frosty night set in. From over¬ 
head the snow came down like hoar-frost, bitterly cold, and the 
ice formed thick on our shields. All the rest had cloaks and 
tunics and they slept in comfort with their shields drawn up 
over their shoulders. But when I started I was stupid enough to 

228 ODYSSEY 8 BOOK XIV [ 481 - 

leave my cloak with my men, thinking that even so I shouldn’t 
suffer from cold; and thus I joined the party with nothing but 
my shield and a light kilt. 

4 In the third watch of the night, when the stars had passed 
their zenith, I decided to have a word with Odysseus, who was 
my neighbour. I nudged him with my elbow. He was all atten¬ 
tion. 44 King Odysseus,” I said, 4 4 bring your wits to the rescue. I 
shall be a dead man soon. This frost is killing me, for I have no 
cloak. I was misguided enough to put on nothing but a tunic. 
And now there’s no way out of my plight.” When I put this to 
him, Odysseus turned it over in his mind and, like the schemer 
and soldier that he was, he had an idea, as you will see. 44 Quiet! ” 
he whispered in my ear. “Don’t let any of the others hear you.” 
Then he raised his head on his elbow and called to the rest: 
44 Wake up, my friends. The gods have sent me a dream in my 
sleep. I feel we have come too far from the ships, and I want 
someone to take a message to Agamemnon, the commander-in- 
chief He might send us reinforcements from the base.” The re¬ 
sponse was immediate. A man called Thoas, Andraimon’s son, 
jumped up, threw off his purple cloak, and set out for the ships 
at the double - leaving me to lie in his clothes with a grateful 
heart till Dawn appeared on her golden throne. Ah, I wish I 
were still as young and strong as I was then!’ 

4 Old man/ said the swineherd Eumaeus to Odysseus, 4 that is 
an excellent story you have told us. Every word went home, 
and you shall have your reward. Tonight you shan’t want for 
clothing or anything else that an unfortunate outcast has the 
right to expect from those he approaches. But in the morning 
you’ll have to knock about in your own rags once more. We 
have no stock of cloaks here nor extra tunics to put on: each 
man has to manage with a single cloak. But when Odysseus’ son 
arrives, you can count on him to give you a cloak and tunic to 
wear, and to send you wherever you have set your heart on 

The swineherd sprang up, placed a bed for him by the fire and 
spread on it the skins of sheep and goats. Odysseus lay down and 



- 533 ] 

Eumaeus covered him with a great thick mantle, which he kept 
laid by to change into when an exceptionally cold spell came on. 

So there Odysseus slept, with the young farm-hands beside 
him. But the swineherd was not content to sleep there and 
desert his boars. On the contrary, he got himself ready for a 
night outside, and Odysseus was delighted to see how careful 
a steward he was of his absent master’s property. He began by 
slinging a sharp sword from his sturdy shoulders. He then 
wrapped himself in a good thick cloak to keep out the wind, 
picked up the fleece of a big full-grown goat, and finally took a 
sharp javelin with which to ward off dogs and men. And so he 
went off to pass the night where the white-tusked porkers slept, 
under an overhanging rock sheltered from the northerly winds. 



Pallas Athene, meanwhile, went to the broad vale of Lace¬ 
daemon to warn King Odysseus’ noble son that it was time for 
him to return, and to hasten his departure. 

She found Telemachus and Prince Peisistratus sleeping in the 
great Menelaus’ portico. Nestor’s son, at all events, was lying 
sound asleep; but Telemachus was enjoying no rest, for anxiety 
on his father’s behalf kept him wakeful all the livelong night. 
The bright-eyed goddess came up to his bed. ‘Telemachus,’ she 
said, ‘it is wrong of you to linger abroad and leave your pro¬ 
perty unguarded with such a rabble in the place. They might 
well share out and eat up all you have, and so make your j ourney 
futile. Urge your gallant host, Menelaus, to let you go at once, 
if you wish to find your noble mother still in the palace. For her 
father and brothers are already pressing her to marry Eury- 
machus, who outdoes all the rest of her Suitors in generosity and 
keeps raising his bid for her hand. There is also the danger that 
she might carry off some of your own things from the house 
without your permission. You know what a woman’s disposi¬ 
tion is. She likes to bring riches to the house of the man who is 
marrying her, while, as for her former husband and the children 
she has borne him, she never gives him a thought once he is 
dead, nor inquires after them. So when you reach home I should 
like to see you take the lead and hand over the whole household 
to whichever woman-servant you trust most, until heaven 
sends you a wife worthy of your rank. And here’s another 
matter for you to digest. The leading spirits among the Suitors 
are lying in ambush in the straits between Ithaca and the rugged 
coast of Samos, intent on murdering you before you can get 
home. Not that I think they will succeed. No; sooner than that, 
the earth will close over some of these love-lorn gentlemen who 


are wasting your wealth. However, give the islands a wide 
berth, and sail on through the night; your guardian god will 
send you a following breeze. Land in Ithaca at the first point you 
reach and send the ship and the whole ship’s company round to 
the port; but before you yourself do anything else, visit the 
swineherd in charge ofyour pigs, who is loyal to you despite all. 
Stay there for the night and send him to the city to give your 
wise mother, Penelope, the news that you are in from Pylos and 
that she has you safely back.’ 

Her message delivered, Athene withdrew to the heights 01 
Olympus. But Telemachus roused Nestor’s son from his 
pleasant dreams with a touch of his foot and said: 4 Wake up, 
Peisistratus, and harness the horses to the chariot, so that we may 
be getting on our way.’ 

‘Telemachus,’ his friend replied, ‘however eager we may be 
to start, we cannot possibly drive in complete darkness. It’ll soon 
be dawn. Why not wait and give the brave Menelaus, our royal 
host, the chance of putting some presents for us in the chariot and 
bidding us a civil farewell? A guest never forgets the host who 
has treated him kindly.’ 

They had not long to wait before Dawn took her golden 
throne and the warrior Menelaus rose from sleep beside the 
lovely Helen and made his way towards them. When Odysseus’ 
son saw him coming he hastily drew his shining tunic on, threw 
his great cloak across his sturdy shoulders, and, dressed like a 
prince, went out to Menelaus and greeted him by his titles. 
‘ Sire,’ he said, ‘I beg leave of you now to return to my own 
country, for I find myself longing to be home.’ 

‘Telemachus,’ the warrior king replied, ‘far be it from me to 
keep you here for any length of time, if you wish to get back. I 
condemn any host who is either too kind or not kind enough. 
There should be moderation in all things, and it is equally offen¬ 
sive to speed a guest who would like to stay and to detain one 
who is anxious to leave. What I say is, treat a man well while 
he’s with you, but let him go when he wishes. 

‘However, do give me time to bring you some presents and 

232 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [ 75 - 

pack them in your chariot - they will be fine ones, as you will 
see for yourself. And let me tell the women to get a meal ready 
in the hall. There’s plenty of food in the larder, and it is a point 
of honour and decency for us, and a question of comfort for 
you, that you should lunch before starting on your long trip 
overland. Perhaps you would like to make a tour through 
Hellas and the Argive country, letting me take your com¬ 
panion’s place; in which case I should provide the car and 
horses and serve as your guide to the various cities? Nobody 
will send us away empty-handed: we can count on each of our 
hosts for at least one gift, a copper tripod or a cauldron, a pair 
of mules or a golden cup.’ 

‘ My lord Menelaus,’ the wise Telemachus answered, ‘ I really 
am anxious to return at once to my own place. For when I set 
out I left no custodian in charge of my property. I must see that 
this journey in search of my royal father does not end in my 
own destruction, and that the house isn’t robbed of any of my 

When the gallant Menelaus heard this, he at once told his wife 
and the servants to prepare a meal in the hall from the plenti¬ 
ful supplies they would find in the larder. At this moment, 
Boethous’ son Eteoneus, who lived near by and had just got up, 
drew near and was told by Menelaus to light the fire and roast 
some meat. Eteoneus hastened to carry out his instructions, 
while Menelaus, in company with Helen and Megapenthes, 
went down to his scented store-room. When they had reached 
the spot where the treasure was kept, Menelaus picked out a 
two-handled cup and told his son Megapenthes to take a silver 
mixing-bowl. Helen, meanwhile, went to the chests which con¬ 
tained her embroidered dresses, the work ofher own hands, and 
from them, great lady that she was, she lifted out the longest 
and most richly decorated robe, which had lain underneath all 
the rest, and now glittered like a star. They then made their way 
through the house and found Telemachus, to whom red-haired 
Menelaus said: Tt is my earnest hope, Telemachus, that Zeus the 
Thunderer and Lord of Here will grant you a safe journey and 


make your home-coming all that you desire. By way of pre¬ 
sents you shall have the loveliest and most precious of the 
treasures that my palace holds. I am giving you a mixing-bowl 
of wrought metal. It is solid silver, with a rim of gold round the 
top, and was made by Hephaestus himself. I had it from my 
royal friend, the King of Sidon, when I put up under his roof 
on my journey home. And now I wish it to be yours/ 

The lord Menelaus then handed him the two-handled cup, 
while his valiant son Megapenthes brought forward the shining 
silver bowl he had described and set it before him. Helen of the 
lovely cheeks stood by with the robe in her hands and made him 
her own adieu: ‘ Look, dear child, I too have a gift for you here, 
a keepsake from Helen, made by her own hands. It is for your 
bride to wear when the longed-for day of your wedding arrives. 
Till then let it lie at home in your mother’s care. And now I wish 
you a happy return to your own country and your pleasant 

With that, Helen handed the robe to Telemachus, who ac¬ 
cepted it joyfully. Prince Peisistratus took charge of the gifts 
- and noted their excellence with silent admiration as he stowed 
them in the body of the chariot. Red-haired Menelaus then led 
the way for them into the house and the two young men sat 
down. A maid brought water in a fine golden jug and poured it 
out over a silver basin so that they could rinse their hands. Next 
she drew a polished table to their side, and the staid housekeeper 
brought some bread and set it by them with a choice of dainties, 
helping them liberally to all she could offer. Eteoneus stood by 
and carved the meat into helpings, while the great Menelaus’ 
son poured out their wine. And so they fell to on the good 
things spread before them. 

When they had satisfied their hunger and thirst, Telemachus 
and Nestor’s noble son yoked their horses, mounted their gaily 
painted chariot, and drove out by the gateway and its echoing 
portico. Red-haired Menelaus walked along after them with a 
golden cup of mellow wine in his right hand, to enable his guests 
to make a drink-offering before they left. He went up to their 

234 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [150 

chariot and drank their health. ‘Goodbye, my young friends, 5 
he said; ‘ and give King Nestor my respects. He was like a kind 
father to me when we were in the field at Troy/ 

‘Your Majesty/ Telemachus replied, ‘we will certainly give 
him your message when* we arrive. I only wish I were as sure of 
finding Odysseus at home when I reach Ithaca, so that I could 
tell him how I have met with nothing but kindness at your hands 
during my stay and have come away laden with precious gifts/ 
As though in answer to his words, a bird came flying to the 
right. It was an eagle, carrying in its talons a great white goose, 
a tame bird from the yard. Some men and women were noisily 
giving chase, and when the eagle reached the car he sheered off 
toward the right in front of the horses, to the delight of the 
whole party, whose spirits rose at the sight. Nestors son Peisis- 
tratus was the first to speak. ‘ Your Majesty/ he said to Menelaus, 
‘ here is a problem. Did heaven send this omen for us two or for 

Menelaus, for all his warlike qualities, was at a loss to give him 
the correct interpretation, and his beautiful wife forestalled 
him. ‘Listen/ she said, ‘while with such inspiration as I have I 
explain this omen and what I feel sure that it portends. Just as 
this eagle came down from his native mountains and pounced 
on our home-fed goose, so shall Odysseus, after many hardships 
and many wanderings, reach his home and have his revenge. 
Why, at this very moment he may be there and sowing 
trouble for the whole pack of Suitors! 9 

‘May Zeus the Thunderer and Lord of Here/ cried Tele¬ 
machus, ‘make what you say come true, and in my distant 
home I shall treat you as a goddess in my prayers/ 

Then he gave the horses a touch of his whip. They set off 
smartly and pressed forward through the town towards the 
open country, where throughout the long day they swayed the 
yoke up and down on their necks. 

By sundown, when the roads grew dark, they had reached 
Pherae, where they drove up to the house of Diodes, son of 
Ortilochus, whose father was Alpheius. There they put up for 


the night and were hospitably entertained. But tender Dawn 
had hardly touched the East with red, when they were harness¬ 
ing their horses once again and mounting the gaily-coloured 
chariot. Out past the sounding portico and through the gates 
they drove. A flick of the whip to make the horses go, and the 
pair flew on, with such a will that before very long the high 
citadel of Pylos came into view. 

At this point Telemachus tinned to Nestor’s son and said: 
‘Peisistratus, I want you, if you can, to undertake something on 
my behalf. We may well claim that our fathers’ friendship 
makes a lasting bond between us. Besides which, we are of the 
same age and this journey will have served to bring us even 
closer together. So I beg you, my dear prince, not to drive me 
past my ship, but to drop me there and thus save me from being 
kept at the palace against my will by your old father’s passion 
for hospitality. For I must get home quicker than that.’ 

Nestor’s son turned the problem over in his mind. How could 
he honourably consent and oblige his friend? After some hesita¬ 
tion he made up his mind. Turning his horses, he drove down to 
the ship on the sea-shore, unloaded the chariot, and stowed 
Menelaus’ fine presents of clothing and gold in the ship’s stem. 
He then impressed on Telemachus the need for haste. ‘Embark 
at once,’ he said, 4 and order all your men on board before I reach 
home and tell the old man. In my own mind I am convinced 
that he is far too obstinate to let you go, but will come down 
here himself to fetch you - and I do not see him going back 
alone. For whatever your excuse, he’ll be very much annoyed.’ 

Peisistratus left him without more ado and drove his long¬ 
maned horses back to the city ofPylos, where he soon reached 
his home. Meanwhile Telemachus spurred on his crew. ‘Men,’ 
he called to them, ‘see that the tackle is properly stowed on 
board, and let’s get in ourselves. I wish to make a start.’ 

The crew leapt to his orders, climbed on board, and took 
their places on the benches. Telemachus hadjust supervised their 
embarkation and was praying and sacrificing to Athene by the 
ship’s stem when he was accosted by a stranger from a distant 

236 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [224- 

State. This man, who had fled from Argos after committing 
manslaughter, was a prophet descended from Melampus. His 
ancestor had at one time lived in Pylos, mother of sheep, and 
been known among his fellow-citizens as a wealthy man with a 
magnificent house. But a time came when he had to fly the 
country and venture abroad to escape from the great but tyran¬ 
nical King Neleus. The king seized his rich estate and kept it for 
a whole year. Melampus meanwhile was a wretched prisoner 
in the castle of Phylacus, reaping untold miseries, for Neleus* 
daughter’s sake, from the fit ofinfatuation into which that irre¬ 
sistible goddess the Fury had cast him. However, he escaped 
alive and managed to drive the lowing cattle from Phylace to 
Pylos, where he had his revenge on King Neleus for the in¬ 
justice done to him and secured the hand of the princess for his 
brother. As for himself, he withdrew abroad, to the plains of 
Argos, where he was destined to make his home and establish 
his rule over a large part of the people. There he married, built 
himself a splendid palace, and had two sturdy sons, Antiphates 
and Mantius. Antiphates became the father of the doughty 
Okies, and Okies, in his turn, of that great leader Amphiaraus, 
a man whom Zeus and Apollo loved and blessed with every 
mark of their favour. Even so he never came within sight of old 
age, but fell at Thebes, the victim of a woman’s avarice. His 
sons were Alcmaeon and Amphilochus, while his brother 
Mantius was the father of Polypheides and Cleitus - Cleitus, 
who was so lovely that Dawn of the golden throne carried 
him off to forgather with the immortals, and the magnani¬ 
mous Polypheides, who was made a seer by Apollo, and after 
Amphiaraus’ death succeeded him as the leading prophet in 
the world. A quarrel with his father led him to migrate to 
Hyperesie, where he settled and practised his profession. 

It was his son, Theoclymenus by name, who now appeared 
and came up to Telemachus, whom he found engaged in 
libations and prayers by his black ship. ‘Friend,’ he said to him 
eagerly, ‘since I find you sacrificing here, I adjure you by your 
sacrifice and the god you are honouring, and again by your own 




life and the lives of these friends who are with you, to be open 
with me and tell me the truth. Who are you? Where do you 
hail from? And what is your native town?’ 

4 Sir/ answered Telemachus , 4 1 am quite ready to give you the 
facts. Ithaca is my native place, and my father is Odysseus, or 
certainly was. But I have come to think that he has long since 
met with some unhappy end. That is what brings me here with 
my ship and my crew. I am trying to find out what has happened 
to my long-lost father/ 

‘Like you/ said the noble Theoclymenus, 4 1 have left my 
country. I killed a man of my own blood, and the plains of 
Argos are full ofhis brothers and kinsmen, who form the most 
powerful family in the land. It was to avoid the certainty of 
death at their hands that I ran away and embraced my new 
destiny as a wanderer on the face of the earth. As I have sought 
sanctuary with you, I beg you to take me on board and prevent 
them from killing me, for I believe they are on my track/ 

4 1 shall certainly not forbid you my good ship, if you wish to 
use her/ said the sensible young man. 4 Come along then; and in 
Ithaca you shall be welcome to such hospitality as we can offer/ 

He took Theoclymenus’ bronze spear and laid it on the 
curved ship’s deck. Then he stepped on board the gallant vessel 
himself, sat down in the stem, and gave Theoclymenus a place 
beside him. The hawsers were cast off and Telemachus shouted 
to the crew to lay hands on the tackle. They obeyed with a will, 
hauled up the fir mast, stept it in its hollow box, made it fast with 
stays, and hoisted the white sail with plaited leather ropes. And 
Athene of the gleaming eyes sent a boisterous wind through the 
clear weather to buffet them from astern, so that their ship might 
make the shortest possible work of her run across the open sea. 
Thus they sailed past Crouni and Chalcis with its lovely streams, 
and when the sun set and they had to pick their way through the 
darkness, they stood for Pheae with the wind still at their backs, 
and ran past the good land ofElis where the Epeians rule. After 
which Telemachus set a course for the Pointed Isles, wondering 
whether he would get through alive or be caught. 




Meanwhile Odysseus and the worthy swineherd, with tl 
farm-hands for company, were taking supper in the hut. Whe 
they had eaten and drunk their fill, Odysseus put out a feeler t 
discover whether he could count on the swineherd’s continue 
hospitality and an invitation to stay there at the farm, or woul 
be sent off to the city. ‘ Listen to me/ he said, ‘ Eumaeus and yo 
men of his. I intend to leave you in the morning and go to th 
town to beg, so that I may not be a burden to you and you 
mates. But I should be glad ofyour best advice and the compan 
of a trustworthy guide to show me the way. Once there I shal 
be thrown on my own resources and shall have to wander abou 
the place in the hope that someone will give me a cup of wate 
and a crust of bread. I propose also to go to King Odysseus 
palace and deliver my news to his wise queen, Penelope. Nor d< 
I see why I shouldn’t approach those ill-conditioned Suitors yoi 
speak of. They have such an abundance of good things that thei 
might well spare me a meal. I should be ready to make an excel¬ 
lent job of whatever work they wanted done. For I tell yoi 
frankly, and you can take it from me, that by favour ofHerme: 
the Messenger, to whom the labour of men’s hands owes all the 
grace and the success that it achieves, there’s not a man to toucl: 
me at servants’ work, at laying a fire well, at splitting dry fag¬ 
gots, as a carver, a cook, a wine-steward, in short at anything 
that humble folk do by way of serving their betters.’ 

But the swineherd was most indignant. 4 My good sir,’ he ex¬ 
claimed, ‘ what on earth put such a scheme into your head? You 
will simply be courting sudden death, if you insist on attaching 
yourselfto a set of men whose profligacy and violence have out¬ 
raged heaven itself. Their servants are not at all your kind, but 
smartly dressed young fellows, who always grease their hair and 
keep their pretty faces clean. That is the kind that wait on them 
- at polished tables, groaning under their load of bread and 
meat and wine. No, sir, stay with me, where nobody finds you a 
nuisance. I certainly don’t, nor does any of my mates here. And 
when Odysseus’ son arrives, he’ll fit you out in a cloak and tunic 
and send you on wherever you would like to go.’ 



- 376 ] 

‘Eumaeus,’ replied the good and gallant Odysseus, ‘may 
Father Zeus look on you as kindly as I do for putting a term to 
my wandering and hopeless want. Surely a tramp’s life is the 
worst thing that anyone can come to. Yet exile, misfortune, and 
sorrow often force a man to put up with its miseries for his 
wretched stomach’s sake. However, since you press me to stay 
and await the prince’s arrival, perhaps you’ll be so good as to 
give me the news about King Odysseus’ mother, and his father, 
whom he left on the threshold of old age when he went abroad. 
Are they still in the land of the living? Or are they dead by now 
and in the Halls of Hades?’ 

‘My friend,’ said the admirable swineherd, ‘I shall be glad to 
answer your questions. Laertes, to take him first, is still alive, but 
every day he prays to Zeus that death may visit his house and 
release the spirit from his flesh. For he grieves inconsolably for 
his lost son and for that wise lady, his wife, whose death was the 
heaviest blow he has suffered, and left him an old man before his 
time. As for her, it was pining for her brilliant son that brought 
her to the grave - a dreadful death - heaven spare my friends and 
patrons here in Ithaca from the like. So long as the unhappy 
woman was still alive, I used always to make a point of asking 
after her and hearing the news, for it was she who brought me 
up, together with that fine girl of hers, the lady Ctimene, her 
youngest. Yes, we were educated together and her mother 
treated me almost as her equal. But when we two young tilings 
had reached the age when love will have its way, they married 
her off to someone in Same - and what a price he paid them! As 
for me, her mother fitted me out in a fine mantle and tunic, with 
a new pair of sandals for my feet, and packed me off to the farm. 
But she always kept a tender place for me in her heart. Ah, I 
have long missed kindness such as hers! I’m not complaining 
about my work here. The blessed gods have prospered it, so that 
it brings me in enough to eat and drink and to give to such as 
have a claim upon me. But from my mistress there’s never a 
gentle word to be had, nor a kind deed either. For the house has 
come on evil days and fallen into ruffians’ hands. Yet servants do 

240 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [376 

miss it mightily when they can’t talk face to face with their mis 
tress, and find out all the news, and have a bite and a sup, ant 
carry off a titbit to the farm as well. That is the sort of thing tha 
always warms a servant’s heart.’ 

‘You surprise me,’ said Odysseus. ‘ You must have been quite 
a little fellow, Eumaeus, when you came all that way from youi 
parents and your home! Won’t you tell me what happened? 
Were you stolen in the streets when they sacked the city where 
your parents lived; or did some band of buccaneers catch you 
alone with the flocks or herds, bring you by ship to the palace 
here and get a good price from your master?’ 

‘My friend,’ replied the admirable swineherd, ‘you have 
asked for the story of my capture. Very well, give me your ear 
and enjoy the tale as you sit there and drink your wine. There’s 
no end to these nights. They give one time to listen and be enter¬ 
tained as well as time to sleep. Nor is there any need for you to 
go early to bed. Even where sleep is concerned, too much is a 
bad thing. But any of the rest, if the spirit moves them, can go 
out and sleep. For at the first sign of dawn they must break their 
fast and sally out with the royal pigs. Meanwhile let us two, here 
in the hut, over our food and wine, regale ourselves with the 
unhappy memories that each can recall. For a man who has been 
through bitter experiences and travelled far can enjoy even his 
sufferings after a time. 

‘You were asking me about my early days. Let me give you 
the tale. There is an island called Syrie - you may have heard the 
name - out beyond Ortygie, where the Sun turns in his course. 
It’s not so very thickly peopled, though the rich land is excellent 
for cattle and sheep and yields fine crops of grapes and com. 
Famine is unknown there and so is disease. No dreadful scourges 
spoil the islanders’ happiness, but as the men of each generation 
grow old in their homes, Apollo of the Silver Bow comes with 
Artemis, strikes them with kindly darts, and lays them low. 
There are two cities in the island, which is divided between 
them. My father, Ctesius son of Ormenus, was king of them 
both and ruled them like a god. 



- 452 ] 

4 One day the island was visited by a party of those notorious 
Phoenician sailors, greedy rogues, with a whole cargo of gew¬ 
gaws in their black ship. Now there happened to be a woman of 
their race in my father’s house, a fine strapping creature and 
clever too with her hands. But the double-dealing Phoenicians 
soon turned her head. One of them began it by making love to 
her when she was washing clothes, and seducing her by the ship’s 
hull - and there’s nothing like love to lead a woman astray, be 
she never so honest. He asked her who she was and where she 
came from. She replied by pointing out to him the high roof of 
my father’s house, and to this she added: “I come from Sidon, 
where they deal in bronze. I am the daughter of Arybas, and a 
rich man he was. But some Taphian pirates carried me off as I 
was coming in from the country, brought me here to tills man’s 
house and sold me. He gave a good price for me, too! ” 

‘ “And how would you like,” said her seducer, “to come 
home again with us and to see the high roof of your own house, 
and your parents in it? For I tell you they are still alive and have 
the name of wealthy folk.” 

4 “I would jump at the chance,” said the woman, “if you 
sailors would swear to bring me safe and sound to my home.” 

‘They were quite willing to promise what she asked, and 
solemnly took their oaths. But the woman had something more 
for their ears. “Keep your mouths shut,” she said, “and don’t let 
any of your party say a word to me if you meet me in the street 
or at the well. Someone might go to the house and blab to the 
old man, who would clap me into irons if his suspicions were 
roused, and see what he could do to kill you all. No; keep the 
idea to yourselves, and buy your homeward freight as fast as you 
can. When the ship is fully victualled quickly send word to me 
up at the house. For I shall bring away some gold with me - all I 
can lay my hands on. And there’s something else I should gladly 
give you in payment for my passage. I’m nurse there in the 
house to a nobleman’s child - a clever little scamp, who trots 
along at my side when we go out. I’m quite ready to bring him 

243 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [43 

port where you might put him up for sale.” With this t 
woman left them and returned to our comfortable home. 

‘The traders stayed with us for a whole year, during whi 
they bought and took on board a vast store of goods. When t. 
hold was full and their ship ready for sea, they sent up a me 
senger to pass the word to the woman. The cunning rascal can 
to my father’s home with a golden necklace strung at interva 
with amber beads. While my mother and the women-servan 
in the house were handling and bargaining for the necklace, an 
all eyes were fixed upon it, he quietly nodded to my nurse, am 
his signal delivered, slipped off to the ship. Meanwhile tl. 
woman took me by the hand and dragged me out through tl 
door, and there in the entrance-hall she saw the wine-cups an 
tables that had been used for a banquet given to my father’s re 
tainers. The guests themselves had gone out to attend a publi 
debate in the meeting-place. So she quickly hid three goblets b 
her bosom and carried them off. And in my childish innocenc 
I followed her. 

‘ The sun had set by now, and we ran down through darkenec 
streets to the great harbour where the fast Phoenician ship wa 
lying. They put us on board at once, climbed in themselves anc 
made for the open sea, with a following wind, as luck woulc 
have it. For six days and nights we sailed steadily on, but on the 
seventh day Artemis the Archeress struck the woman and she 
crashed headlong into the hold like a gannet diving into the sea. 
They threw her corpse overboard as carrion for the seals and 
fish, and I was left alone in my misery. In due course the winds 
and currents drove us in to Ithaca, where Laertes parted with 
some of his wealth to buy me. That, sir, is how I first came to 
set eyes on this land.’ 

‘Eumaeus,’ said King Odysseus, ‘this vivid account of your 
misfortunes has moved me deeply. But you must admit that 
heaven sent you some good luck too, to set off the bad, since 
after all these misadventures you came to the house of a kind 
master, who has obviously been careful to see that you have 
plenty to eat and drink; so that the life you live is a good one, 


whereas I have tramped through half the cities m the world 
before reaching this refuge ’ 

In this way they entertained each other with talk, and when 
at last they lay down, it was not for a long night's sleep only a 
little time was left before Dawn was on her golden throne 

Meanwhile Telemachus had reached the coast of Ithaca, and 
his men were striking sail Down came the mast, and they rowed 
her mto her berth, where they dropped anchor and made the 
hawsers fast Then they jumped out on the beach, prepared 
their breakfast, and mixed the sparkling wine Telemachus 
wisely let them eat and drink their fill before he gave them their 
orders ‘You will now take the ship round to the port,’ he said, 
4 while I pay a visit to the farms and see the herdsmen This even¬ 
ing, when I've looked round my estate, I shall come down to the 
city And tomorrow morning I propose to pay you your wages 
for the voyage - a good feast of meat with mellow wme to 
wash it down * 

‘And what is to become of me, dear child?’ asked his noble 
passenger, Theoclymenus 4 Which of your chieftains’ homes is 
to be my refuge in this rugged land of yours? Or shall I go 
straight to your mother and your own house?’ 

‘In other circumstances,’ answered the prudent Telemachus, 
‘I should mvite you to go to our own house, where there is no 
lack of hospitality But as things stand, for your own sake I do 
not recommend that course, smce you won’t have me at your 
side and my mother wouldn’t see you She seldom shows herself 
to her Suitors m the hall, but keeps away from them and works 
at the loom m her room upstairs However, there ts a man you 
might go to, and I’ll give you his name - Eurymachus, the noble 
son ofa wise father, Polybus, who at the moment is my country¬ 
men’s idol He is certainly by far the best man there, as well as 
the keenest bidder for my mother’s hand and for my father’s 
rights But Olympian Zeus in his heaven is the only one who 
knows whether he hasn’t a bad time in store for them all before 
it comes to weddings 1 ’ 

244 ODYSSEY • BOOK XV [$2t 

bird flying to the right. It was a hawk, Apollo’s winged heral 
holding a dove in its talons, which it plucked so that the feathe 
fluttered down to earth half-way between the ship and TeL 
machus himself. Theoclymenus beckoned him away from b 
men, seized his hand, and congratulated him. ‘Telemachus,’1 
said, 4 this bird that passed to your right was certainly a sign froi 
heaven. Directly I set eyes on him I knew him for a bird < 
omen. In all Ithaca there is no more royal house than yours, Nc 
yours is the power for all time.’ 

4 My friend, ’ said Telemachus, 4 may what you say prove tru< 
If it does, you shall learn from my liberality what my friendshi 
means, and the world will envy you your luck.’ Then he tume 
to his loyal friend Peiraeus son of Clytius and said: 4 Peiraeus, ( 
all who joined me on this trip to Pylos I have always found yo 
the most reliable. Will you oblige me now by taking charge < 
this guest of ours and treating him with every kindness an 
attention in your own house till I come back?’ 

To which the gallant Peiraeus replied: 4 Stay here as long j 
you like, Telemachus, and I will look after him. He shall n< 
complain of any lack of hospitality.’ 

Peiraeus then went on board the ship and ordered the rest t 
cast oif the hawsers and embark. They quickly got in and too 
their seats on the benches. Meanwhile Telemachus fastened h 
sandals on his feet and picked up his powerful bronze-pointe 
spear from the ship’s deck. The men untied the cables, thrust he 
off, and sailed for the city, as ordered by Telemachus, the son c 
Odysseus their king. But Telemachus set out on foot and walke 
at a good pace till he reached the yard where his large droves c 
pigs were kept and the swineherd slept among them, loyal hear 
with none but kindly feelings for his masters’ house. 



When Telemachus arrived, Odysseus and the worthy swine¬ 
herd were preparing their breakfast in the hut by the light of 
dawn, after stirring up the fire and sending the herdsmen off 
with the pigs to the pastures. The dogs, usually so obstreperous, 
not only did not bark at the newcomer but greeted him with 
wagging tails. Odysseus heard footsteps and at the same mo¬ 
ment observed the dogs’ friendly behaviour. Immediately alert, 
he turned to his companion and said: ‘Eumaeus, you have a 
visitor: I can hear his steps. He must be a friend of yours or some¬ 
one familiar here, for the dogs are wagging their tails instead 
of barking.’ 

The last words were not out ofhis mouth when his own son 
appeared in the gateway. Eumaeus jumped up in amazement 
and the bowls in which he had been busy mixing the sparkling 
wine tumbled out of his grasp. He ran forward to meet his 
young master, he kissed his forehead, kissed him on both his 
lovely eyes, and then kissed his right hand and his left, while the 
tears streamed down his cheeks. Like a fond father welcoming 
back his son after nine years abroad, his only son, the apple ofhis 
eye and the centre of all his anxious cares, the admirable swino 
herd threw his arms round Prince Telemachus and showered 
kisses on him as though he had just escaped from death. 

4 So you are back, Telemachus, light of my eyes! ’ he said in a 
voice filled with emotion. 4 And I thought I should never see you 
again, once you had sailed for Pylos! Come in, come in, dear 
child, and let me feast my eyes on the wanderer just home. We 
herdsmen see little of you here on the farm: you are too fond of 
the town. It seems as though you found it amusing to watch that 
crew of wreckers at their work! ’ 

4 I’ll come in with pleasure, uncle,’ said Telemachus. 4 In fact it 



was for you I came here. I wanted to see you myself and find 
from you whether my mother is still in the palace or whet 
she has married again and Odysseus’ bed is hung with cobw 
for lack of occupants.’ 

‘Of course she’s still at home,’ said the excellent swinehe 
‘She has schooled her heart to patience, though her eyes ; 
never free from tears as the slow nights and days pass sorra 
fully by.’ 

As he spoke he relieved his visitor of his bronze spear, ai 
Telemachus crossed the stone threshold into the house. At 1 
entrance, Odysseus his father rose to give him his seat. But Tel 
machus from the other side of the room checked him with 
gesture and said: ‘ Keep your seat, sir. I am sure that in our ow 
farmhouse we can find a seat elsewhere; and here is someone t 
provide it.’ 

So Odysseus resumed his chair, while the swineherd made 
pile of green brushwood for his son, with a fleece spread on top 
and there Telemachus sat down. Eumaeus then put beside then 
platters of roast meat that had been left over from their meal 01 
the previous day, and with eager hospitality piled baskets high 
with bread and mixed them some sweet wine in an ivy-wood 
bowl. This done, he himself sat down opposite King Odysseus, 
and they fell to on the good fare before them. When they had 
satisfied their hunger and thirst, Telemachus turned to the 
worthy swineherd and said: ‘Uncle, where does this guest of 
yours hail from? I am quite sure he didn’t walk to Ithaca. Some 
ship’s crew must have brought him here. How did it happen 
and who may they have been?’ 

My child, Eumaeus replied, ‘you shall have nothing but the 
truth from me. He claims to be a native of the large island of 
Crete and says he has tramped as an outcast through half the 
towns in the world, for that seems the kind of life that heaven 
has let him in for. But quite recently he managed to escape from 
a Thesprotian ship and came to my homestead here. I propose 
to make him over to you, to deal with as you like, for he has 
decided to throw himself on your mercy. ’ 


‘Eumaeus, this is very mortifying to me/ Telemachus 
thoughtfully replied. * How can I possibly receive the stranger in 
my house? In the first place I myself am young and I doubt 
whether I yet have the physical strength to cope with anyone 
who might care to pick a quarrel with me. Then again my 
mother is in two minds whether to stay at home and keep house 
for me, in deference to her husband’s bed and to public opinion, 
or whether to choose among the nobles in the palace who are 
candidates for her hand and go off with the likeliest and most 
generous bidder. However, as the stranger has sought refuge in 
your house, I will fit him out in a good cloak and tunic, give 
him a two-edged sword and sandals for footwear, and see that 
he reaches his destination, wherever that may be. But I should 
be glad if you could agree to keep him at the farm and look after 
him. Til send you the clothes and all the food he’ll need, so that 
he shan’t be a burden to you and your mates. But I will not 
permit him to come down to the palace and meet the Suitors. 
For their brutality goes beyond all bounds, and if they insult 
him, as I fear is likely, I should take it very much to heart. But it 
is extremely difficult for a man to do anything single-handed 
against a crowd, however strong he may be. They have an 
overwhelming advantage/ 

‘ I feel sure, my dear sir,’ the gallant Odysseus interposed, * that 
there can be no objection to my joining in your discussion. My 
indignation has been deeply stirred by what I have learnt from 
you of the outrageous conduct of these Suitors, which you, a 
gentleman, have had to put up with in your house. Tell me, do 
you take this lying down; or have the people of Ithaca been 
turned into enemies ofyours by some wave ofirrational feeling ? 
Or again, is it your brothers who cannot be trusted to stand by 
you as they should through thick and thin? Ah, I wish I had the 
youth, as I have the stomach, for this work; that I were the noble 
Odysseus’ son, or that Odysseus himselfhad come back from his 
travels - as there is still reason to hope that he may! I should be 
ready here and now to let anyone cut my head off, if I didn’t go 
straight down to the palace of Laertes’ heir and make myself a 

248 ODYSSEY • BOOK XVI [105- 

curse to every man in that crowd. And what if they did over¬ 
whelm me by numbers, single-handed as I should be? I would 
rather die by the sword in my own house than witness the 
perpetual repetition of these outrages, the brutal treatment of 
visitors, men hauling the maids about for their foul purposes in 
that lovely house, wine running like water, and those rascals 
gorging themselves, just for the sport of the thing, with no 
excuse, no rational end in sight! ’ 

‘My friend,’ said the wise Telemachus, ‘let me explain the 
situation to you. I cannot say that the people as a whole have 
fallen out with me and taken up a hostile attitude. Nor can I 
complain of any disloyalty in the brothers I should normally 
rely on to stand by me through thick and thin. For Zeus has 
made only sons the rule in our family. Laertes was the only son 
of Arceisius, and Odysseus of Laertes, while I was the only son 
who had been born to Odysseus when he left his home - and 
little joy he had of me. As a result, the house is infested by our 
enemies. Of all the island chieftains in Dulichium, in Same, in 
wooded Zacynthus, or in rocky Ithaca, there is not one that isn’t 
courting my mother and wasting my property. As for her, she 
neither refuses, though she hates the idea of remarrying, nor can 
she bring herself to take the final step. Meanwhile they are eating 
me out ofhouse and home. And I shouldn’t be surprised if they 
finished me myself. However, the issue of all this is on the knees 
of the gods. And now, uncle, will you go quickly down and tell 
my wise mother, Penelope, that she has me safely back from 
Pylos. I myself propose to wait here till you return after deliver¬ 
ing your message - which is for her ears alone. Let none of the 
men in the place hear it. There are plenty of them eager to do 
me a mischief.’ 

‘ I know; I understand, ’ said the swineherd Eumaeus. ‘ You’ve 
chosen a man who can think for himself. But what do you say to 
my making one journey of it and telling Laertes also the news? 
The poor man, for all his great grief for Odysseus, used till lately 
to take a look round the fields and eat and drink with the hands 
at the farm when he felt disposed to do so. But ever since you 




sailed for Pylos, they say that he has not so much as taken a bite 
or sup, nor cast an eye over the work on the farm, but sits there 
moaning and groaning in his misery, with the flesh withering 
on his bones/ 

‘So much the worse/ said the cautious Telemachus, ‘but all 
the same we will let him be. Not that I do not sympathize; for if 
men could have anything for the asking, my father’s return 
would be my first choice. However, deliver your message and 
come straight back. Don’t go wandering about the countryside 
after Laertes, but ask my mother to send out one ofher waiting- 
women, quickly and secretly. She could tell the old man/ 

So Telemachus gave him his errand, and Eumaeus picked up 
his sandals, bound them on his feet and set off for the town. His 
departure from the farm was not unobserved by Athene, who 
now approached, to all appearance a tall, beautiful, and accom¬ 
plished woman, and halting opposite the door of the hut made 
herself visible to Odysseus, though Telemachus could neither 
see her nor become conscious ofher presence, since it is by no 
means to everyone that the gods grant a clear sight of them¬ 
selves. Thus, only Odysseus and the dogs saw her, and the dogs 
did not bark but ran whimpering in panic to the other side of the 
farm. Athene frowned and nodded to Odysseus, who caught 
her signal, and leaving the house passed along by the great wall 
of the yard and presented himself before her. Athene spoke to 
him. ‘The time has come/ she said, ‘royal son of Laertes, 
Odysseus of the nimble wits, to let Telemachus into your secret, 
so that the pair of you may plot the downfall and death of the 
Suitors and then make your way to the famous city. I will not 
leave you two alone for long: I am eager for the fight/ 

As she spoke, Athene touched him with her golden wand, 
and behold, a clean mantle and tunic hung from his shoulders; 
his stature was increased and his youthful vigour restored; his 
bronze tan returned; his jaws were filled out; and the beard 
grew black on his chin. Her work done, Athene disappeared; 
and Odysseus went back into the hut. His son gave him one look 
of amazement, then withdrew his eyes for fear that he might be 




a god, and in an awestruck tone said: ‘ Stranger, you are not the 
same now as the man who just went out. Your clothes are dif¬ 
ferent; your complexion is changed. I can only think that you 
are one of the gods who live in the broad sky. Be gracious to us, 
and we will make you pleasing sacrifices and offerings of 
wrought gold. Have mercy upon us. 5 

‘Why do you take me for an immortal?’ said the noble and 
patient Odysseus. ‘Believe me, I am no god. But I am your 
father, on whose account you have endured so much sorrow 
and trouble and suffered persecution at men’s hands.’ 

With that he kissed his son and let a tear roll down his cheek 
to the ground, though hitherto he had kept himself under strict 
control. But Telemachus could not yet accept the fact that it was 
his father, and once more put his feelings into words. ‘You are 
not my father,’ he said: ‘ you are not Odysseus; but to make my 
grief all the more bitter some power is playing me a trick. No 
mortal man unaided by a god has wizardry like this at his com¬ 
mand, though I know that any god who wished could easily 
bring about these alterations between youth and age. Why, 
only a moment ago you were an old man in shabby clothes, and 
now you look like one ofthe gods who live in the wide heavens.’ 

‘Telemachus,’ replied Odysseus, never at a loss, ‘ there is no 
reason why you should feel any excessive surprise at your 
father’s home-coming, or be so taken aback. Be quite certain of 
this, that you will see no second Odysseus return. No, I am the 
man, just as you see me here, back in my own country after 
nineteen years of misfortune and wandering. As for these 
changes in me, they are the work ofthe warrior goddess Athene, 
who can do anything, and makes me look as she wishes, at one 
moment like a beggar and at the next like a young man finely 
dressed. It is easy for the gods in heaven to make or mar a man’s 

Odysseus sat down, but Telemachus, softened at last, flung 
his arms round his noble father’s neck and burst into tears. And 
now they both broke down and sobbed aloud without a pause 
like birds bereaved, like the sea-ea le or the taloned vulture 


when villagers have robbed the nest of their unfledged young. 
So did these two let the piteous tears run streaming from their 
eyes. And sunset would have found them still in tender mood, if 
Telemachus had not suddenly thought of asking his father a 
question. ‘ But, father dear/ he said, ‘ what ship can have brought 
you just now to Ithaca, and who were the men on board? It is 
obvious that you didn’t come on foot.’ 

‘My boy,’ said Odysseus, ‘you shall have the whole story. 
The Phaeacians brought me here. You know their name for 
seamanship and how they provide any stranger who lands on 
their coasts with his passage home. Well, they brought me 
across the sea on one of their fast ships and landed me in Ithaca - 
I was asleep the whole time. They gave me splendid presents 
too, copper and gold in plenty and woven stuffs, all of which, I 
thank heaven, lie hidden in a cave. Finally, I came up here at 
Athene’s suggestion so that we could discuss the destruction of 
our enemies. And now I want you to run through their names 
for me one by one, so that I may know exactly who and how 
many they are. Then I will face the problem boldly and decide 
whether we two could deal with them by ourselves or whether 
we should seek assistance/ 

‘ Father/ Telemachus replied with his usual prudence, ‘ I have 
always heard of your great reputation as a soldier who could use 
his brains as well as his hands. But this time you have over¬ 
reached yourself. You appal me! Two men couldn’t possibly 
take on so many, and such good fighters into the bargain. There 
are not a mere dozen Suitors, nor a couple of dozen, but many 
times more than that. I can tell you their strength here and now. 
Dulichium has sent fifty-two, the pick ofher young men, with 
six valets in tow. From Same there are twenty-four, and from 
Zacynthus twenty noblemen; while Ithaca itself has contri¬ 
buted a dozen of its best, and with them Medon the herald, and 
an excellent minstrel, besides two servants used to carving. If 
we meet them at the house in full force, I am afraid it may be 
you who pay a cruel and a ghastly price for the crimes you 
have come to avenge. So if you can think of any possible allies, 

2$2 ODYSSEY 8 BOOK XVI [355 

consider the people most likely to fight heart and soul on ot 

‘I will indeed/ said the all-daring Odysseus. ‘Hear what 
think; and ask yourself whether Athene with Father Zeus wi 
serve our purpose, or whether I need cudgel my brains for an 
further allies/ 

‘Your champions are an excellent couple, I’m sure/ said Tele 
machus. ‘They may sit up there in the clouds, but they rule th 
whole world of men and gods/ 

‘And so/ said Odysseus, ‘ when the scene is set in the palace fo 
ordeal by battle between us and the Suitors, it will not be Ion 
before those two are in the thick of the fight. However, at th 
first sign of dawn, I wish you to go home and show yourself t< 
these rascally Suitors. Later, the swineherd will bring me dowi 
to the city disguised as a wretched old beggar. If I meet wit! 
insolence in the house, you must steel your heart to my maltreat 
ment, and even if they haul me out of the place by the feet or le 
fly at me with their weapons, you will have to look on and bea 
it. You can, of course, take them politely to task and try to mak 
them behave more sensibly; but they simply won’t listen t( 
you: their day ofjudgement is at hand. And here is another par 
of my plan that I must impress on your mind. When that grea 
strategist, Athene, tells me that the time has come, I shall giv< 
you a nod. Directly you see the signal gather up the warlike 
weapons that are lying about in the hall and stow them away in s 
comer of the strong-room. See that you take them all, and wher 
the Suitors miss them and ask you what has happened, you musi 
lull their suspicions with some plausible tale. You can say: “i 
rescued them from the smoke, having noticed how differeni 
they looked from when Odysseus left them and sailed for Troy 
The fire had got at them and damaged them badly. It also oc¬ 
curred to me - and this was more serious - that, since the verj 
presence of a weapon provokes a man to use it, you might start 
quarrelling in your cups and wound each other, thus spoiling 
your festivities and disgracing yourselves as suitors/* 

‘Just for us two, leave a couple of swords and spears and two 


leather shields ready to hand, where we can make a dash and 
pick them up. Pallas Athene and Zeus will distract the Suitors’ 
attention when the time comes. 

* One more word; and this is most important. If you really are 
my son and have our blood in your veins, see that not a soul 
hears that Odysseus is back. Tell neither Laertes, nor the swine¬ 
herd, nor any of the household staff, nor Penelope herself. You 
and I alone will discover which way the women are heading. 
And we might also sound one or two of the men-servants, to 
find out which are loyal and respect us, and which have for¬ 
gotten their duty to the fine prince they have in you.’ 

But his noble son had an objection to raise. ‘Father,’ said he, 
‘my own mettle, I am sure, you will come to know in due 
course: I am not in the habit of behaving like a light-headed 
fool. But I do feel that we should gain nothing by acting as you 
propose, and I urge you to think once more. You would waste a 
lot of time going round the various farms and sounding the ser¬ 
vants one by one, while the Suitors are enjoying themselves in 
our house and eating up our stores in their disgusting way, with¬ 
out sparing a tiling. I certainly think you ought to find out 
which of the women-servants are guilty or innocent of dis¬ 
loyalty towards you; but as far as the men are concerned, I, 
personally, vote that we do not go round the farms to sound 
them, but postpone that till later, if it is really true that you have 
had some intimation of the will of Zeus.’ 

While father and son were thus discussing the situation, the 
good ship that had brought Telemachus and his men from Pylos 
was making the port. They sailed the black craft into the deep 
water of the harbour and then dragged her up on the beach. 
Their eager squires carried off their gear and removed the valu¬ 
able gifts to Clytius’ house. They then dispatched a messenger 
to Odysseus’ palace to tell the wise Penelope that Telemachus 
had gone up-country and ordered them to sail round to the city, 
so that the good queen might not take alarm and let the tear¬ 
drops fall. As it happened, this messenger and the worthy swine¬ 
herd, conveying the same news to the lady, met on the way. But 

254 ODYSSEY • BOOK XVI [335- 

when they reached the royal palace, the messenger no sooner 
found himself surrounded by the women-servants than he 
blurted out his news: ‘A message for the Queen! Her son is 
back!’ Whereas the swineherd sought Penelope's own ear and 
told her everything her son had instructed him to say. His mes¬ 
sage faithfully delivered, he turned his back on the palace and its 
precincts and returned to his pigs. 

To the Suitors the news came as a shock which cast a gloom 
over their spirits. They streamed out of the hall along the great 
wall of the courtyard, and there in front of the gates they 
held a meeting, which was opened by Eurymachus, son of 

4 My friends,’ he said, 4 Telemachus, in his impudence, has cer¬ 
tainly scored a success by safely bringing off this expedition that 
we swore should come to nothing. I can only suggest that we 
should now launch the best available ship, collect a crew of able 
seamen, and quickly send word to our friends out there that they 
must come home at once.' 

He was still speaking when Amphinomus, happening to turn 
round, caught sight of their ship from where he sat. She was 
riding in the harbour and he could see them furling sail and 
handling the oars. He gave a merry laugh and called out to the 
rest: 4 No need to send a message now! Our friends are back. 
Some god must have sent them word, or they themselves saw 
Telemachus’ boat slip by and couldn’t catch her.’ 

Hereupon the whole company rose and went down to the 
beach, where they made haste to drag the black ship up onto the 
shore, while eager squires relieved the crew of their gear. The 
Suitors then repaired in a body to the place of assembly, where 
they allowed no one else, young or old, tojoin them. And there 
Antinous, Eupeithes’ son, made his report. 4 Damnation take the 
man,’ he said, 4 but by god’s help he saved his skin. All day long 
we had scouts posted along the windy heights and kept rein¬ 
forcing them. We never slept ashore at night, but as soon as the 
sun set we went on board and kept afloat till dawn in the hope of 
catching Telemachus and finishing him off. Meanwhile some 


spirit brought him home. Telemachus, I say, must not escape 
us, but here and now we must think out some way of destroying 
him. For i contend that while he lives we shall never bring this 
business of ours to a satisfactory end. The man is clever and he 
knows how to use his brains, while the people no longer look on 
us with any favour at all. I suggest action, therefore, before he 
can call a general Assembly. For mark my words, he wont be 
slow to do so, and it will be an angry man who rises up to de¬ 
nounce us and tell them all how we plotted his murder and then 
missed him. They certainly won’t applaud this recital of our 
misdeeds. In fact they may take a strong line and send us into 
banishment among the foreigners abroad. We must forestall 
such a move and catch him either in the country well away from 
town or on the road. We should then have his income and 
estates, which we would divide fairly between us, while we 
might let his mother and her new husband keep the house. But 
if you disapprove of my proposal and would rather see him alive 
and in possession of all his inheritance, I suggest that we no 
longer forgather here to eat his excellent dinners, but that each 
of us court the Queen and make his bridal offers from his own 
house. She could then marry the man who bid highest and was 
picked out by fate to be her husband.’ 

A dead silence followed this speech. It was broken at last by 
Amphinomus, son of King Nisus and grandson of Aretias, the 
master-spirit among the Suitors from the corn and grass lands 
ofDulichium. He was a man of intelligence, whose behaviour 
had singled him out for Penelope’s special approval; and the 
advice he now gave showed that he had their best interests at 

‘ My friends,’ he said, ‘ you must not regard me as ready to put 
Telemachus to death, it is a dreadful thing to spill the blood of 
princes. Before all else, let us learn the gods’ will. If the oracles of 
almighty Zeus approve the deed, I shall not only second you all, 
I will be his executioner myself. But if the gods say no to it I 
advise you to hold your hands.’ 

Amphinomus carried the day and the meeting adjourned 

2$6 ODYSSEY • BOOK XVI [407- 

without further debate. They all retired into the palace and sat 
down once more on their chairs of polished wood. 

It was at this moment that Penelope gave way to a sudden 
impulse to confront these Suitors of hers, now that they had 
shown to what extremes they were prepared to go. She knew 
well enough that her son’s murder had been canvassed in the 
palace, for Medon the herald had overheard their debate and 
warned her. So now she gathered her ladies round her and 
went down to the hall. With queenly dignity she approached 
the young men, and drawing a fold of her bright head-dress 
across her cheeks, took her stand by a pillar of the massive roof, 
where she rounded on Antinous and called him bluntly to 

‘ They say in Ithaca that there is no one of your age so wise and 
eloquent as you, Antinous. You have proved them wrong; and 
I denounce you for the double-dealing ruffian that you are. 
Madman! How dare you plot against Telemachus’ life and dis¬ 
honour the obligations that a past act of mercy imposes - bonds 
that are ratified by Zeus himself and make all enmity between 
you two a sacrilege? Or have you forgotten that your father 
once sought refuge here from the fury of the mob, when their 
blood was up because he had joined the Taphian pirates in a raid 
on the Thesprotians, who were at peace with us? They would 
have killed him and had his heart out, quite apart from the 
seizure of his handsome income, had not Odysseus intervened 
and controlled their violence - Odysseus, at whose expense you 
are living free of charge, whose wife you are courting, and 
whose son you propose to kill, whatever torture you may cause 
to me. I command you now to put an end to this and make the 
rest obey you.’ 

It was Eurymachus son ofPolybus who took it on himself to 
deal with the Queen. ‘Penelope,’ he said, ‘wise daughter of 
Icarius, have no fear. Dismiss these terrors from your mind. The 
man is not born and never will be, who shall lay violent hands 
on Telemachus your son, so long as I live and am on earth to see 
the light of day. I am making no idle boast but telling you the 


solemn truth, when I say that his black blood would soon be 
pouring from my spear. Didn’t Odysseus, the sacker of cities, 
befriend me too and often take me on his knees to put a piece of 
roast meat in my fingers and lift the red wine to my mouth? 
That makes Telemachus my dearest friend on earth, and I assure 
him he need have no fears whatever for his life. We shall not kill 
him. If the gods decree his death, that is another matter and 
there’s no escape.’ 

So said Eurymachus to soothe the mother’s fears, while all the 
time he had murder for the son in his heart. But Penelope with¬ 
drew to her splendid apartment on the upper floor, and there 
she wept for Odysseus her beloved husband till bright-eyed 
Athene closed her eyes in grateful sleep. 

That same evening the good swineherd returned to Odysseus 
and his son. They were engaged in the routine of preparing 
supper, having slaughtered a yearling pig, when Athene came 
up to Odysseus and touched him with her wand, changing him 
once more into an old man in filthy clothes. She was afraid that 
the swineherd would recognize him if he saw him undisguised, 
and being unable to keep the secret run down to tell Penelope 
the news. 

It was Telemachus who greeted him: * So here you are, my 
good Eumaeus! What news in the town? Are my gallant lords 
back from their ambuscade? Or are they still watching for me 
in the same spot on my way home?’ 

‘I didn’t care,’ said Eumaeus, ‘to go down to the town and 
make inquiries about that, I was in too much of a hurry to de¬ 
liver my message and get back here, and I had been joined on 
my way by a messenger whom your crew had sent running off 
to the palace. Actually he was the first to convey the news to 
your mother. But there’s something that I can tell you, for I saw 
it with my own eyes. I had climbed up above the town as far as 
Hermes’ Hill when I spied a ship coming into our harbour. She 
had a crowd of men on board and a whole armoury of shields 
and two-edged spears. I took it to be their party, but I cannot 
say for certain.’ 

258 ODYSSEY 8 BOOK XVI [476- 

When Prince Telemachus heard this he glanced at his father 
with a smile which he was careful to hide from Eumaeus. 

Their work was finished now and the meal prepared. So they 
sat down with a good appetite and ate their supper together. 
When their thirst and hunger were satisfied they began to think 
kindly of their beds and were soon enjoying the boon of sleep. 



The tender Dawn, flecking the East with red, found King 
Odysseus’ son Telemachus eager to set out for the city. He 
bound his strong sandals on his feet, and had a word with his 
swineherd as he picked up his big well-balanced spear. 

4 Uncle,’ he said, ‘ I am going to town now, as you see, to show 
myself to my mother, who, I am sure, won’t stop weeping and 
lamenting till she sees me in the flesh. Here are my instructions 
for you. Take that unhappy visitor of ours to the city and let 
him beg there for his meals. He is sure to find charitable souls 
who will give him a crust and a cup of water. I myself cannot 
possibly cope with all and sundry: I have too many troubles on 
my mind. And if the stranger takes this in bad part, so much the 
worse for him. I admit I believe in plain speaking.’ 

‘My good sir,’ Odysseus here put in, ‘do not think that I am 
anxious to be left behind. Town is a better place than the 
country for a man to beg his food in; and I shall find charity 
there. For I am unsuited by my age to live on a farm at a master’s 
beck and call. So go your way; and presently this man, who 
already has your orders, will bring me along, when I have 
warmed myself at the fire and the day grows hot. For these 
clothes of mine are terribly threadbare and I am afraid the morn¬ 
ing frost might be too much for me. It’s a long walk to the town, 
as you have told me.’ 

Telemachus now went off through the farm and fell into a 
rapid stride as plans for vengeance on the Suitors took shape in 
his mind. When he reached the great house he took his spear and 
leant it against one of the tall pillars, then crossed the stone thres¬ 
hold and went in. 

The first to see him was the nurse Eurycleia, who was busy 
spreading rugs over the curved chairs. With tears in her eyes she 




ran up to meet him, and soon every maid the stalwart Odysseus 
possessed was pressing round him and showering affectionate 
kisses on his head and shoulders. And now the wise Penelope 
came out from her bedroom, lovely as Artemis or golden 
Aphrodite, and dissolved in tears as she threw her arms round 
her son’s neck and kissed his forehead and his beautiful eyes. ‘ So 
you’re back, Telemachus, my darling boy!’ she said between 
her sobs. ‘And I thought I should never see you again after you 
had sailed for Pylos to find out about your dear father - so 
secredy, so much against my wishes. Come, tell me all you 

Mother,’ Telemachus soberly replied, ‘please do not reduce 
me to tears or play on my emotions when I have just escaped 
from such a deadly fate. But go upstairs to your room with your 
ladies, and when you have washed and changed into fresh 
clothes pray to all the gods, promising them the most perfect 
offerings if Zeus ever grants us a day of reckoning. I myself am 
going to the market-place to fetch an acquaintance who accom¬ 
panied me on my journey back. I sent him ahead of me to town 
with my good crew and told Peiraeus to take him home and 
treat him with all care and respect till I should come.’ 

Telemachus’ manner froze the words on her lips. She bathed, 
changed into fresh clothes, and then addressed herself to the 
heavenly company, promising them a perfect offering when 
Zeus should grant her house a day of reckoning. 

Meanwhile Telemachus strode across the hall and sallied out, 
carrying his spear, and with two nimble hounds at his heels. 
Athene endowed him with such magic grace that all eyes were 
turned on him in admiration as he approached. The highborn 
Suitors gathered round him in a throng, with kindly speeches on 
their lips and evil brewing in their hearts. But he shook them off 
as they crowded in upon him, and found a seat with Mentor, 
Antiphus, and Haliserthes, whose friendship for his house was 
rooted in the past. As these were plying him with questions 
about his voyage, the spearman Peiraeus came up with Theo- 
clymenus, whom he had conducted through the streets to the 




market-place. Telemactms rose to meet him, not faltering for a 
moment in courtesy towards his guest, but it was Peiraeus who 
got the first word in and asked him at once to send some women 
to his house so that he could have Menelaus* gifts conveyed to 
the palace. Telemachus, however, had his own views on this 
point . 4 No, Peiraeus/ he said . 4 None of us can tell what is going 
to happen. If my lords the Suitors assassinate me in the palace 
and partition my estate, I should like you or one of my friends 
here to keep and enjoy the treasures. On the other hand, if I suc¬ 
ceed in sending the Suitors to their last account, I am sure you 
will be as glad to deliver the gifts at my house as I shall be to see 

This settled, he led the way home for his travel-worn friend 
and brought him to the great house, where they threw down 
their cloaks on settles or chairs, stepped into the polished baths 
and washed. When the maid-servants had finished bathing 
them and rubbing them with oil, they gave them tunics and 
threw warm mantles round their shoulders, and the two left 
their baths and sat down on chairs. A maid came with water in 
a fine golden jug and poured it out over a silver basin so that 
they might rinse their hands. She drew up a wooden table and 
the staid housekeeper brought some bread and set it by them, 
together with a choice of dainties, helping them liberally to all 
she could offer. 

Telemachus* mother sat opposite them by a pillar of the hall, 
reclining in an easy-chair and spinning the delicate thread on her 
distaff, while they fell to on the good fare laid before them. It 
was not till they had eaten and drunk their fill that the prudent 
Penelope broke the silence. Then she said to her son: 4 It seems, 
Telemachus, that I am to retire upstairs and go to my bed - 
which has been a bed of sorrows stained by my tears ever since 
Odysseus followed the Atreidae to Ilium - without your having 
deigned to tell me, before the house is invaded by my noble 
lovers, just what you may have heard about your father’s 

4 Very well, mother/ said Telemachus; ‘you shall hear what I 

262 ODYSSEY * BOOK XVII [109. 

did. We went to Pylos and there visited King Nestor, who re¬ 
ceived me in his great palace and showed me every hospitality 
He might have been my father, and I his long-lost son just bad 
from my travels, so kindly did he and his royal sons look aftei 
me. But of the stalwart Odysseus, alive or dead, he said he hac 
not heard a single word from anyone on earth. However, Ik 
lent me a fine chariot and pair to take me on to the gallant Mene- 
laus. And there I saw Helen of Argos, for whose sake the Argivei 
and the Trojans by god’s will underwent so much. The warrioi 
Menelaus was quick to ask me what had brought me to hi< 
pleasant land of Lacedaemon, and when I had explained the 
whole matter he cried: “For shame! So the cowards want tc 
creep into the brave man’s bed? It is just as if a deer had put hei 
little unweaned fawns to sleep in a mighty lion’s den and gone tc 
range the high ridges and the grassy dales for pasture. Back 
comes the lion to his lair, and hideous carnage falls upon them 
all. But no worse than Odysseus will deal out to that gang! 
Once, in the pleasant isle ofLesbos I saw him stand up to Philo- 
meleides in a wrestling-match and bring him down with a ter¬ 
rific throw which delighted all his friends. By Father Zeus, 
Athene and Apollo, that’s the Odysseus I should like to see these 
Suitors meet! A swift death and a sorry wedding there would be 
for all! But to come to your appeal and the questions you asked 
me -1 have no wish to deceive you or to put you off with eva¬ 
sive answers. On the contrary I shall pass on to you without 
concealment or reserve every word that I heard myself from the 
infallible lips of the Old Man of the Sea. He told me that he had 
seen your father in great distress on an island, in the Nymph 
Calypso’s cavern, where she keeps him prisoner; for without 
galley or crew to carry him so far across the sea, it is impossible 
for him to get home.” That is all I found out from the gallant 
Menelaus; so I left him when I had finished my inquiries. 
Heaven sent me a favourable wind and brought me quickly 
back to my beloved Ithaca.’ 

Penelope was deeply moved by what Telemachus had told 
her. And now the noble Theoclymenus joined in, addressing 


himself respectfully to Odysseus’ queen: ‘Believe me, madam, 
Menelaus has no accurate information. You would do better 
to listen to me, who will read you the signs exactly and truly. 
I swear by Zeus before all other gods, and by the board of 
hospitality, and by the good Odysseus’ hearth, which I have 
reached, that Odysseus is actually in Ithaca at this moment, at 
rest or afoot, tracing these crimes to their source and scheming 
revenge on the Suitors - witness the bird of omen which I saw 
from our good ship and proclaimed to Telemachus.’ 

‘ Sir,’ said the wise queen, ‘ may what you say prove true! If it 
does, you shall learn from my liberality what my friendship 
means, and the world will envy you your luck.’ 

While this conversation was going on inside Odysseus’ 
palace, the Suitors, in their usual free and easy way, were amus¬ 
ing themselves outside with quoits and j avelin-thro wing on the 
levelled ground where we have seen them at their sports before. 
When supper-time arrived and the sheep came in from the 
countryside all round in the charge of the usual drovers, Medon, 
who was their chosen master of ceremonies and a partner in 
their junketings, came up to summon them. ‘Now that you 
gentlemen have enj oyed your sports,’ he said, ‘ I suggest that you 
should come indoors, so that we may get supper ready. There’s 
much to be said for a punctual meal.’ The Suitors obediently left 
their games and flocked into the great house, where they threw 
down their cloaks on the settles and chairs, and prepared for a 
banquet by slaughtering some full-grown sheep and goats as 
well as several fatted hogs and a heifer from the herd. 

Meanwhile Odysseus and the loyal swineherd were preparing 
to come in from the country to the town. It was the excellent 
herdsman who first proposed a move. ‘ Friend,* he said, ‘ I see you 
are still determined to go to town today, as my master said 
you should. I myself would rather leave you here to look after 
the farm. But I respect and fear him. He might scold me pre¬ 
sently, and a rebuke from one’s master can be a very nasty thing. 
So now let us be off. The best part of the day is gone and you 
may well find it chilly towards evening/ 


‘Understood and agreed/ said Odysseus. ‘I recognize sen 
when I hear it. Let's make a start; and you must lead the w; 
from beginning to end. But do give me a staff to lean on, ifyc 
have one cut and ready, for I have gathered from you that il 
difficult going/ 

As he spoke he hung his mean and tattered knapsack over 1 
shoulders by the strap that supported it, and Eumaeus chose hi 
a staff to suit him. Then the pair set out, leaving the dogs ar 
herdsmen to look after the farm. In this way Eumaeus broug 
his King to the city, hobbling along with his staff and lookir 
like a wretched old beggar-man in the miserable clothes he w 

Beside the rocky path which they followed down, and not £ 
from the city, there was a public watering-place, where a cle 
spring ran into a basin of stone that Ithacus, Neritus, and Poly 
tor had made for the townsfolk. A thicket of alders, flourishir 
on the moisture, encircled the spot. The cool stream came tun 
bling down from the rock overhead, and an altar had bee 
erected up above to the Nymphs, where all travellers paid the 
dues. Here they fell in with one Melantheus son of Dolius, wl 
with two shepherds to help him was driving down some goa 
for the Suitors’ table, the pick of all his herds. This man r 
sooner set eyes on them than he burst into a torrent of vulg 
abuse, which roused Odysseus to fury. 

‘Ha!’ the fellow cried. 4 One scapegrace with another in tow 
a case of birds of a feather! Tell me, you miserable swineher 
where are you taking this wastrel of yours, this nauseatii 
beggar and killjoy at the feast? Just the sort to lean against all tl 
door-posts and polish them with his shoulders, begging £ 
scraps, but never for work on the pots and pans. Give him to ir 
to look after the folds, to sweep the pens and carry fodder to t 
kids, and he might thrive on whey and work his muscles up. B 
the fellow has taken to bad ways, and work on the farm is t 
last thing he’s looking for. He’d much rather fill his gluttono 
belly by touting round the town for alms. You mark my wor< 
and see what happens if he goes to King Odysseus’ palace. He 


have a warm reception, from the people there - a shower of foot¬ 
stools shied at his head and breaking on his ribs/ 

With that he passed by and, as he did so, the fool landed a kick 
on Odysseus’ hip, failing, however, to thrust him off the path, 
so firm was his stance. Odysseus was in two minds whether to 
let out at the fellow and kill him with his staff or to tackle him by 
the waist and dash his head on the ground. In the end he had the 
hardihood to control himself. It was the swineherd who faced 
up to Melantheus and denounced him. 

‘ Nymphs of the Fountain, Daughters of Zeus/ he cried, rais¬ 
ing up his hands in earnest prayer, ‘ if ever Odysseus made you a 
burnt-offering of the thighs of rams or kids wrapped up in their 
rich fat, grant me my wish that he himself may be brought back 
to us by the hand ofheaven. He’d soon cure you, sir, of all the 
swaggering ways you have picked up since you took to loaf¬ 
ing round the town and leaving bad shepherds to ruin your 

‘ Hear how the vicious mongrel snarls! ’ retorted the goatherd 
Melantheus. ‘ I’ll pack him off one day from Ithaca in a big black 
ship and make my fortune by him. As for Odysseus, I wish I 
could make as sure that Telemachus should fall this very day in 
the palace to Apollo’s silver bow or at the Suitors’ hands, as I am 
certain that any chance of his father’s coming home has been 
disposed of far away from here/ 

With this last shot he left them to pursue their leisurely way, 
while he himself stepped out and was soon at the king’s house, 
where he went straight in and joined the Suitors, taking a seat 
opposite Eurymachus, his favourite. The waiters helped him to 
the roast, and the staid housekeeper brought bread and gave him 
some to eat. 

Meanwhile Odysseus and his trusty swineherd had arrived; 
but they paused for a moment outside when the notes from a 
well-made lyre came to their ears. For Phemius was just pre¬ 
paring to give the company a song. ‘Eumaeus/ said Odysseus 
taking the swineherd by the arm, ‘ this must surely be Odysseus’ 
palace: it would be easy to pick it out at a glance from any 




number of bouses. There are buildings beyond buildings; the 
courtyard wall with its battlements is a fine piece of work and 
those folding doors are true defences. No one could afford to 
turn up his nose at this. I gather too that a large company is there 
for dinner: one can smell the roast, and someone is playing the 
lyre. Music and banquets always go together.’ 

‘You have made no mistake,’ said Eumaeus; ‘but you are 
naturally observant. Let us consider our next move. Either you 
go into the palace first and approach the Suitors while I stay 
where I am; or, if you prefer it, you wait here and let me be the 
first to go in. But in that case don’t be long, or they may see you 
here outside and take a shot at you or beat you off. I leave it to 
you to decide.’ 

‘And rightly too,’ said the stalwart Odysseus, ‘for I under¬ 
stand the position. You shall go in first while I stay here; for I 
am quite used to blows and missiles. I have been toughened by 
what I have suffered in the field and on the sea. After all that, 
what matters a bit more? But if there is anything that a man 
can’t conceal it is a ravening belly — that utter curse, the cause of 
so much trouble to mankind, which even prompts them to fit 
out great ships and sail the barren seas, bringing death and de¬ 
struction to their enemies.’ 

Stretched on the ground close to where they stood talking, 
there lay a dog, who now pricked up his ears and raised his head. 
Argus was his name. Odysseus himself had owned and trained 
him, though he had sailed for holy Ilium before he could reap 
the reward of his patience. In years gone by the young hunts¬ 
men had often taken him out after wild goats, deer, and hares. 
But now, in his owner’s absence, he lay abandoned on the heaps 
of dung from the mules and catde which lay in profusion at the 
gate, awaiting removal by Odysseus’ servants as manure for his 
great estate. There, full of vermin, lay Argus the hound. But 
directly he became aware of Odysseus’ presence, he wagged his 
tail and dropped his ears, though he lacked the strength now to 
come any nearer to his master. Yet Odysseus saw him out of the 
comer of his eye, and brushed a tear away without showing any 


sign of emotion to the swineherd, whom he now proceeded to 

‘Eumaeus, it is very odd to see a hound like this lying in the 
dung. He’s a beauty, though one cannot really tell whether his 
looks were matched by his pace, or whether he was just one 
of those dogs whom their masters feed at table and keep for 

‘It’s plain enough,’ said the swineherd Eumaeus, * that this is a 
dog whose master has met his death abroad. If you could see 
him in the heyday of his looks and form, as Odysseus left him 
when he sailed for Troy, you’d be astonished at his speed and 
power. No game that he gave chase to could escape him in the 
forest glades. For beside all else he was a marvel at picking up the 
scent. But now he’s in a bad way; his master far away from 
home has come to grief, and the women are too careless to 
groom him. Servants, when their masters are no longer there to 
order them about, have little will to do their duties as they 
should. All-seeing Zeus takes half the good out of a man on the 
day when he becomes a slave.’ 

With this Eumaeus left him, entered the great house, and 
passed straight into the hall where the young gallants were as¬ 
sembled. As for Argus, he had no sooner set eyes on Odysseus 
after those nineteen years than he succumbed to the black hand 
of Death. 

Prince Telemachus was the first to observe the swineherd’s 
approach through the palace, and signalled to him at once to 
join him. Eumaeus looked about him and picked up a stool 
which stood there for the steward to sit on when carving meat 
for the Suitors at their banquets in the hall. This he brought and 
placed at Telemachus’ table, on the far side, and there he sat 
down. A waiter fetched a portion of meat, which he set before 
him, and helped him to bread from a basket. 

Close on his heels Odysseus entered the buildings. He looked 
exactly like some ancient and distressful beggar as he limped 
along with the aid ofhis staff, and the rags that hung upon him 
were a filthy sight. He sat down on the wooden threshold just 



[ 340 - 

inside the door, with his back against a pillar of cypress smoothed 
by some carpenter long ago and defdy trued to the line. Tele- 
machus beckoned the swineherd to his side, and selecting a 
whole loaf from the dainty basket of bread and as much meat 
as his cupped hands would hold, he said: 

‘ Take this food and give it to the newcomer. And tell him to 
go the rounds himself and beg from each of the company in 
turn. For modesty sits ill upon a needy man. 

Thus instructed, the swineherd went up to Odysseus and 
carefully delivered his message. ‘Stranger,’ he said, ‘Tele- 
marhns makes you this gift and tells you to go the rounds and 
beg from each of the company in turn. For he points out that 
modesty sits ill upon a beggar-man.’ 

Odysseus promptly answered with a prayer: ‘I pray to you, 
Lord Zeus, to make Telemachus a happy man and grant him all 
the wishes of his heart.’ He then stretched out both hands to take 
the food, put it straight down in front of his feet on his shabby 
wallet and continued to eat as long as the minstrel’s song was 
heard in the hall. He had finished his supper just as the excellent 
bard was coming to an end, and now, as the company began to 
fill the hall with uproar, Athene appeared before Odysseus and 
urged him to go round collecting scraps from the Suitors and 
learning to distinguish the good from the bad, though this did 
not mean that in the end she was to save a single one from de¬ 
struction. So Odysseus set out and began to beg from them one 
after the other, working from left to right and stretching out 
his hand to each like one who had been a beggar all his life. They 
gave him food out of pity, and surprised at his appearance asked 
parb other who he was and where he had come from. This gave 
the goatherd Melantheus the chance to put in his word: ‘My 
lords and courtiers of our noble queen, I can tell you something 
of this stranger, for I’ve seen him before, when the swineherd 
was bringing him down here. But I really don t know who he 
is and where he hails from.’ 

At once Antinous rounded on Eumaeus. ‘How typical of our 
swineherd!’ he cried. ‘May I ask, sir, why you brought this 


fellow to town? Haven’t we tramps in plenty to pester us with 
their wants and pollute our dinners? Are you so dissatisfied with 
the numbers collected here to eat your master’s food that you 
must ask this extra guest to join the gathering?’ 

‘Antinous,’ the swineherd answered him, ‘you may be nobly 
bom but there’s nothing handsome in your speech. Who would 
take it on himself to press hospitality on a wandering stranger, 
unless he were some worker for the public good, a prophet, a 
physician, a shipwright, or even a minstrel whose songs might 
give pleasure? For all the world over such guests as those are 
welcomed, whereas nobody would call a beggar in to eat him 
out ofhouse and home. But ofall the Suitors you are always the 
hardest on Odysseus’ servants, and of all of them hardest on me. 
However, I care little for that as long as Penelope my wise mis¬ 
tress and the noble Prince Telemachus are alive in the palace.* 

‘Enough now!’ Telemachus prudently interposed. ‘I won’t 
have you bandying words with Antinous, who likes nothing 
better than to rouse a man’s passion with his evil tongue and egg 
the others on to do the same.’ Then he turned on Antinous and 
spoke his mind to him: ‘Antinous, I appreciate your fatherly 
concern on my behalf and your anxiety that I should order the 
stranger out of the house. God forbid such a thing! Give him 
something yourself. I don’t grudge it you; indeed I wish you 
would. Have no fear, either, of offending my mother or any of 
the royal servants by your charity. But there’s no such idea in 
your head. You’d far sooner eat the food yourself than give it 

‘ Telemachus, this is nonsense,’ said Antinous in his turn. ‘You 
let your tongue and temper run away with you. If all the Suitors 
were to give him as much as I should like to, the place would be 
rid of him for three months.’ 

As he spoke, he seized the stool that supported his dainty feet 
as he dined, and brought it into view from under the table where 
it lay. But all the rest made their contributions and soon filled 
the wallet with bread and meat. It looked as if Odysseus might 
now have regained his seat on the threshold without having to 

270 ODYSSEY • BOOK XVII [413- 

pay for his experiment with the Suitors But on the way he 
paused beside Antmous and addressed him directly 
‘ Your alms, kmd sir 1 * he said 4 I am sure you are not the mean¬ 
est of these lords Indeed, I take you for the noblest here, since 
you look every mch a kmg Good reason why you should give 
me a bigger dole than the rest - and f d smg your praises the wide 
world over Time was when I too was one of the lucky ones 
with a rich house to live in, and I have often given alms to such a 
vagabond as myself, no matter who he was or what he came for 
Hundreds of servants I had and plenty of all that one needs to live 
in luxury and take one’s place as a wealthy man But Zeus - for 
some good reason of his own, no doubt - stopped me of all I 
had To wreck my life, he put it into my head to sail for Egypt 
with a set of roving buccaneers And what a way it was 1 But at 
last I brought my curved ships to, in the Nile There I ordered 
my good men to stay by the ships on guard, while I sent out 
some scouts to reconnoitre from the heights But these ran 
amuck and m a trice, earned away by their own violence, they 
had plundered some of the fine Egyptian farms, borne off the 
women and children and killed the men The hue and cry soon 
reached the city, and the townsfolk, roused by the alarm, turned 
out at dawn The whole plain was filled with infantry and 
chanots and the glint of arms Zeus the Thunderer struck abject 
panic mto my party Not a man had the spirit to stand and face 
the enemy, for we were threatened on all sides They ended by 
cuttmg down a large part of my force and carrying off the sur¬ 
vivors to work for them as slaves But they let me be taken off to 
Cyprus by an ally of theirs whom they fell m with, a man called 
Dmetor son oflasus, the undisputed kmg of the island Audit’s 
from Cyprus that I have now made my painful way to this spot ’ 
4 What god,’ exclaimed Antmous, 4 has inflicted this plague on 
us to spoil our dinner ? Stand out there m the middle and keep 
clear of my table, or I’ll give you the sort ofEgypt and Cyprus 
you won’t relish* The audacity and impudence of the rogue* 
He has only to pester each man m turn, and they give him food 


nobody shows restraint or consideration when it comes to being 
generous with other people’s goods/ 

Odysseus prudently drew back and said: ‘Ah, I was wrong 
in thinking that your brains might match your looks! You 
wouldn’t give so much as a pinch of salt from your larder to a 
retainer of your own, you that sit here at another man’s table 
and can’t bring yourself to take a bit ofhis bread and give it to 
me, though there’s plenty there/ 

This roused Antinous to real fury. He gave him a black look 
and did not mince his words. ‘After that/ he said, T swear you 
shall not get away from here in triumph. Your insolence has 
settled it.’ And picking up a stool he let fly and struck Odysseus 
full on the right shoulder where itjoins the back. But Odysseus 
stood firm as a rock and Antinous’ missile did not even make 
him totter. Hejust shook his head in silence, filled with revenge¬ 
ful thoughts. And so he went back to the threshold, where he 
sat down, dropped his bulging wallet, and addressed the com¬ 

‘ Listen to me, you lords that are wooing our illustrious queen! 
Let me unburden my heart. A knock or two, when a man is 
fighting for his own property, his oxen or white sheep, is no¬ 
thing to cry about or be ashamed of. But this blow from 
Antinous was brought on me by my wretched belly, that cursed 
thing men have to thank for so much trouble. And if there are 
any gods and powers that can avenge a beggar, I hope Antinous 
will be dead before his wedding day/ 

‘ Sit and eat in peace, sir/ Antinous retorted, ‘ or take yourself 
elsewhere. Otherwise your freedom of speech will end in our 
young men dragging you out of the place by the leg or arm and 
flaying you from head to foot/ 

But the rest of them felt the utmost indignation, and the 
general sense was expressed by one young gallant who said: 
‘Antinous, you did wrong to strike the wretched vagabond. 
You’re a doomed man if he turns out to be some god from 
heaven. And the gods do disguise themselves as strangers from 
abroad, and wander round our towns in every kind of shape to 




see whether people are behaving themselves or getting out 

That was the Suitors’ view, but Antinous took no notice 
what they said, and Telemachus, though he felt the blow lik< 
stab at his own heart, kept the tears back from his eyes, sho< 
his head in silence and nursed vindictive thoughts. But when t 
wise queen Penelope in due course heard of Antinous’ assault < 
the stranger in her palace she cried, in her maids’ hearin 
‘Archer Apollo, strike him as he struck! ’ And the housekeep 
Eurynome chimed in: ‘Ah, if we could only have our wish< 
there’s not a man among themwho’d see tomorrow’s dawi 

‘ Good mother,’ Penelope went on, ‘Ihate the whole gang f 
the wicked plots they hatch, but Antinous is the blacks 
scoundrel of them all. An unfortunate tramp, constrained 1 
poverty, came wandering through the house and begged £ 
their alms. All the rest were generous and filled his wallet n 
but Antinous threw a stool at his back and hit him on the rig. 

While Penelope was discussing the affair with her maids 
she sat in her own apartment, the noble Odysseus was eating fc 
supper. And now Penelope summoned her trusty herdsman 1 
her side and said: ‘ Go, my good Eumaeus, and ask the strang 
to come here. I should like to greet him and inquire whether 1 
happens to have heard of my gallant husband or to have sec 
him with his own eyes. He seems to have travelled far.’ 

‘My Queen,’ replied Eumaeus, ‘I only wish the young lor< 
would keep quiet. With the tales he can tell, the man wou] 
fascinate you. I must explain that as I was the first person 1 
came across after running away from his ship I had him with rr 
for three nights and kept him all three days in my cottage; bi 
even so he couldn’t finish the story ofhis troubled life. To ha\ 
that man by me at home with his enchanting tales was like si 
ting with one’s eyes fixed on some bard inspired to melt one 
heart with song, so that nothing matters but to listen as long; 
he will sing. 

‘He claims acquaintance with Odysseus through his famil 


and says he is a native of Crete, where the Minoans live 
Starting from there, like a rolling stone, and after many painful 
adventures, he has at last come to us, and he is positive that he 
has heard of Odysseus, that he’s near at hand and alive, m the 
rich Thesprotian country, and bringing home a fortune * 

‘ Go now and call him/ said the wise queen, ‘ so that I can hear 
his story from himself, and let these others sit at our gates or m 
the house and enjoy themselves They have nothing to worry 
them, for their own wealth, their bread and mellow wine, lies 
untouched at home with no one but their servants to support, 
while they spend their whole time m and out of our place, 
slaughtermg our oxen, our sheep, and our fatted goats, feasting 
themselves and drinking our sparkling wine, with never a 
thought for all the nches that are wasted. The truth is that there 
is nobody like Odysseus m charge to purge the house of this 
disease Ah, if Odysseus could only come back to his own 
country 1 He and his son would soon pay them out for their 
crimes * 

As she finished, Telemachus gave a loud sneeze, which 
echoed round the house m the most alarming fashion Penelope 
laughed and turned to Eumaeus ‘ Do go/ she said eagerly, 4 and 
brmg this stranger here to me Didn’t you notice that my son 
sneezed a blessing on all I had said? That means death, once for 
all, to every one of the Suitors not a man can escape his doom 
One more pomt, and don’t forget it If, when I hear him tell his 
own story, I am satisfied with its truth, I will fit him out pro¬ 
perly in a new cloak and tunic ’ 

With these instructions the swineherd left her, and approach¬ 
ing the stranger duly delivered his message 4 My friend/ he said, 
4 the wise Penelope, Telemachus’ mother, wishes to see you 
Sorrow-stricken as she is, she is anxious to ask you some ques¬ 
tions about her husband If she is satisfied that all you say is true, 
she will fit you out with a cloak and tunic, which you need more 
than anything else and then you can feed yourselfby beggmg 
your bread in the town, where charitable folk will give you 
alms ’ 


‘Eumaeus/ answered the stalwart Odysseus, ‘Ishouldbeglai 
to give Icarius 9 daughter, the wise Penelope, all the real news 
have For I am well-informed about Odysseus, whose imsfor 
tunes I have shared But I am frightened of this crowd of mis 
chievous young gallants, whose insolence and violent acts crj 
out to heaven Just now when that fellow struck me a painful 
blow as I was walking harmlessly through the place, neither 
Telemachus nor anyone else lifted a finger to save me So urge 
Penelope to wait mdoors and restrain her impatience till sunset, 
when she can question me about her husband and the date of bis 
return, and can give me a seat nearer in by the fire For my 
clothes are mere rags, as you know well, smce it was you whom 
I first approached * 

When he had heard what the other had to say, the swineherd 
went off and was accosted by Penelope as soon as he crossed the 
threshold ofher room ‘Eumaeus 1 ’ she exclaimed ‘You haven t 
brought him? What does the man mean by this? Is he afraid 
of someone in particular, or is he just ashamed to linger in 
the house? Modesty such as that does not make successful 
beggars ’ 

4 He wants to save himself/ said Eumaeus, ‘from the clutches 
of a set of scoundrels, and there he’s right. Anyone else would 
feel the same He begs you to wait till sundown, a time which 
should suit you too, my lady, better, as it will allow you to con¬ 
verse with the man in private ’ 

4 The stranger is no fool/ Penelope answered ‘he has a good 
idea of what might happen For in the whole world I don’t be¬ 
hove one could find another set of reprobates and miscreants 
like these * 

His message delivered, the worthy swineherd left her and re¬ 
joined the gathering, where he at once sought out Telemachus 
and whispered urgently m his ear so that the others could not 
hear him 1 Dear master, I am leaving presently to look after the 
pigs and farm, your livelihood and mine. It’s for you to see to 
everything here Look to your own safety first and take care 
that you don’t come to grief For plenty of the young lords are 


none too well disposed. Perdition take them all before they do 
us in! 9 

4 Very well, uncle, 9 said Telemachus. ‘Go when you’ve had 
your supper, and in the morning come back with some good 
beasts for slaughter. Leave things here to Providence and me. 9 

The swineherd sat down again on the polished settle and when 
he had satisfied his appetite and thirst went off to rejoin his pigs, 
leaving the courts and hall full ofbanqueters dancing and singing 
to their hearts 9 content, by the failing fight of day. 



There entered now upon the scene a common vagabond wb 
used to beg for his living in the streets of Ithaca and was notor 
ous for his insatiable greed and his ability to eat and drink a 
day. He was a big fellow, yet in spite of appearances he had r 
stamina or muscle. Amaeus was the name his gentle mother ha 
given him at his birth, but all the young men nicknamed hi 
Irus, since he was at everyone’s beck and call for an errand. Tb 
was the man who now came up, intent on chasing Odyssei 
from his own house. He took the offensive at once: 

‘Make way from the porch, old fellow, or you’ll find you 
self dragged offby the ankle. Don’t you see they’re all tippii 
me the wink to haul you out - not that I should care to ? Up wi 
you now, or you and I will soon come to blows.’ 

Odysseus of the nimble wits gave him a black look. ‘ Sir,’ 
replied, ‘ I have neither said nor done a thing to hurt you; nor < 
I grudge you the most generous alms that anyone may gi\ 
This threshold will hold us both and there is no reason why yi 
should be niggardly with other people’s goods, since I take y 
for a tramp like myself and dependent on Providence for a li 
mg. Think twice before you call me out; or once you ha 
roused me, old as I am I’ll dye your lips and breast with yo 
own blood, and so, by the way, get a quieter day for myself t 
morrow, for I warrant that this palace of Odysseus would ne\ 
see you back.’ 

At this the beggar Irus lost his temper. ‘Ha! ’ he cried. ‘ Sli 
talk from the glutton! An old cook could do no better. But I 
a nasty trick in store for him, a right and left that’ll dash all I 
teeth from his jaws to the ground, like the tusks of a maraudi 
swine. Tuck in your clothes, and let these gentlemen see how 
fight-ifyoureallydareto match yourselfagainstayoungerma 


27 ? 

- 70 ] 

In this way they were whetting each other’s fury with a right 
good will, there on the polished threshold in front of the high 
doors, when their behaviour caught Antinous’ princely eye. He 
laughed delightedly and called out to the rest of the Suitors: 

4 My friends, this beats everything. Here is a treat for us blown 
straight in from heaven. The stranger and Irus are challenging 
each other to box. Let’s make a match of it, quick! ’ 

They alljumped up laughing, and as they crowded round the 
ragged beggars, Antinous’ persuasive voice was heard once 

‘Gentlemen, here’s a suggestion. We have some goats’ 
paunches roasting there at the fire, which we stuffed with fat and 
blood and set aside for supper. I propose that the winner, when 
he has proved himself the better man, shall come up and take his 
pick of these. And not only that, he shall join us regularly at 
dinner, and we’ll allow nobody else to beg in this company.’ 

They all approved Antinous’ idea, and the wily Odysseus 
played up to his part. ‘ Friends,’ he said, 6 there’s no sense at all in 
a match between an old fellow worn out by trouble and a 
younger man. Yet this mischievous belly of mine eggs me on to 
take my thrashing. So now I ask you all to make me a solemn 
promise. No one must side with Irus: I don’t want to lose to 
kim through a foul blow from one of you.’ 

They were all prepared to give him their assurance, and when 
this had been done with due solemnity. Prince Telemachus put 
in his word: 

4 Stranger, if you have the heart and pluck to match yourself 
against this man, you need not be afraid of any of these gentle¬ 
men. Whoever strikes you will have others to deal with. I am 
the host here; and the Prince Antinous and Eurymachus, good 
judges both, are on my side.’ 

This met with general applause; so Odysseus tucked up his 
rags round his middle and bared his great and shapely thighs. 
His broad shoulders too, and his chest and brawny arms now 
caught the eye. Indeed Athene herself intervened to increase his 
royal stature. As a result, all the Suitors were lost in amazement. 


and significant glances and comments were exchanged. One of 
them said: 

‘ Under those rags of his, what a thigh the old fellow had! No 
more errands for Irus! He was looking for trouble and he’ll 
find it.’ 

This was quite enough for Irus, whose heart failed him com¬ 
pletely. But that did not stop the servants from girding up his 
clothes and dragging him forcibly to the front, though he was 
in such a state of panic that the flesh quivered on all his limbs. 
And now he had to listen to a tirade from Antinous. 

‘You clodhopper! ’ he shouted at him. ‘You may well wish 
you were dead or had never been bom, if you’re going to stand 
quaking there in mortal terror of an old man done in by hard¬ 
ships. I’ll be blunt with you, and what I say holds good. If this 
fellow beats you and shows himself the better man, I’ll throw 
you into a black ship and send you over to the continent to King 
Echetus the Ogre, who’ll have your nose and ears off with his 
cruel knife and rip away your privy parts to give them as raw 
meat to dogs.’ 

The effect of this on Irus was to make him shudder all the 
more. However, they dragged bim into the ring, and the pair 
put up their hands. Odysseus considered carefully whether he 
should hit to kill outright or lay him flat with a gentler punch. 
In the end he decided on the lighter blow, to avoid attracting 
too much attention from the young lords to himself. Accord¬ 
ingly, when they put up their hands and Irus drove at his right 
shoulder, Odysseus struck Irus’ neck below the ear and smashed 
in the bones so that the red blood gushed up through his mouth 
and he fell down in the dust with a groan, grinding his teeth and 
drumming the earth with his feet. At this the young gallants 
threw up their hands and nearly died oflaughing. But Odysseus 
seized Irus by the foot and dragged him out through the en¬ 
trance across the courtyard to the gate of the portico. There he 
propped him against the courtyard wall, put his stick in his hand 
and sternly passed sentence upon him: ‘ Sit there now and keep 
the pigs and dogs away. And unless you want worse trouble 

-I 4 l] the beggar in the palace 279 

still, drop the part of Beggar-King it doesn’t suit the likes of 
you Then he slung his mean and tattered knapsack over his 
shoulder by the strap attached to it and returning to the thres¬ 
hold resumed his seat. 

The Suitors flocked back into the hall with many a hearty 
laugh and congratulation for Odysseus ‘Stranger/ they said, 
may Zeus and the other gods grant you the dearest wishes of 
your heart for having stopped that glutton from begging in 
Ithaca Now we’ll soon pack him off to the continent, to King 
Echetus the Ogre * 

Their way of putting it impressed Odysseus as a happy omen 
for himself, and now Antinous presented him with a large 
paunch stuffed with fat and blood, while Amphmomus picked 
out a couple ofloaves from a basket, put them down beside him 
and drank to him from a golden cup ‘Your health, my ancient 
friend 1 ’ he said ‘You are under the weather now, but here’s to 
your future happiness * ’ 

‘Amphmomus,’ the wise Odysseus answered him, ‘you seem 
to me to be a thoroughly decent fellow, in factjust such a son as I 
should have looked for from your father, Nisus ofDukchium, 
whom I have heard well spoken of as a good man and a nch one 
Now since he was your father and you strike me as bemg a 
gentleman, I am going to be frank with you Listen to me care¬ 

‘ Of all creatures that breathe and creep about on Mother 
Earth, there is none so helpless as a man As long as heaven leaves 
him m prosperity and health, he never thinks hard times are on 
their way Yet when the blessed gods have brought misfortune 
on his head, he simply has to steel himself and bear it In fact our 
outlook upon hfe here on earth depends entirely on the way in 
which Providence is treating us at the moment Look at myself 
There was a time when I was marked out to be one of the lucky 
ones, yet what must I do but let my own strength run away with 
me and take to a life oflawless violence under the delusion that 
my father and my brothers would stand by me? Let that be a 
lesson to every man never to disregard the laws of god but 




quietly to enjoy whatever blessings Providence may affo 
The lawlessness I see here is a case in point - these Suitors wasti 
the property and insulting the wife of a man who, as I mainta 
will not be kept away much longer from his friends and his 0 7 
country. In fact, he is very near; and I only hope that soj 
power may waft you away to the safety of your own home a 
that you may not have to face him on the day that sees him ba 
on his native soil. For, once he is under his own roof, I have 
idea that blood will be spilt before he and the Suitors see the 1; 
of one another/ 

As he finished, Odysseus made his libation and drank t 
mellow wine; then returned the cup into the young noblemai 
hands. But Amphinomus went back through the hall heavy 
heart and shaking his head; for he was filled with a forebodii 
of disaster. Not that it saved him from his fate, for Athene h; 
already marked the man out to fall a victim to a spear from Tel 
machus* hand. Meanwhile, he went back and sat down aga: 
on the chair he had just left. 

It was now that Athene, goddess of the flashing eyes, put 
into the wise head oflcarius’ daughter Penelope to appear befoi 
the Suitors, with the idea of fanning their ardour to fever he; 
and enhancing her value to her husband and her son. Turnin 
to one of her maids with a forced laugh she said: ‘Eurynom< 
the spirit moves me, as it never has before, to pay these lovers c 
mine a visit - much as I detest them. I should also like to have 
word with my son for his own benefit and warn him not t 
spend his whole time with these unruly young men, who ma; 
speak him fair but whose intentions are evil/ 

‘My child/ said the housekeeper Eurynome, ‘you are quit 
right. By all means go. And be frank with your son; tell hin 
what is in your mind. But not before you’ve washed yoursel 
and anointed your cheeks. You mustn’t go like this, with you] 
face all stained by tears. It’s a bad thing to be for ever weeping 
and never have a change. And you the mother of a fine big 
son, whom you’ve always longed to see with a beard on hi 

— 215 ] the beggar in the palace 281 

‘ Eurynome,’ said Penelope, ‘ I know your kind heart, but you 
shouldn’t encourage me in this way to have a bath and anoint 
my cheeks. The gods of Olympus robbed me of any charms I 
may have had, on the day when my husband took ship and 
sailed away. However, tell Autonoe and Hippodameia to come 
here, so that they can attend me in the hall. I am not going to 
brave that masculine company alone: modesty forbids.’ 

While the old woman went off through the house to take this 
message to the maids and send them to their mistress, the god¬ 
dess Athene carried her scheme a step further by making Pene¬ 
lope so drowsy that her whole body relaxed and she fell back 
sound asleep on the couch where she was sitting. The great 
goddess then endowed her with more than human gifts in order 
that the young lords might be overcome by her beauty. First 
she cleansed her fair cheeks with a divine cosmetic like that used 
by Cythereia when she puts on her lovely crown to join the 
Graces in their delightful dance. Then she gave her the appear¬ 
ance of greater stature and size; and she made her skin whiter 
than ivory that has just been sawn. When her work was done 
the goddess withdrew, and the white-armed maids came up 
from another part ofthe house. The sound oftheir voices as they 
approached woke up Penelope, who rubbed her cheeks with 
her hands and exclaimed: ‘What a wonderful sleep, in spite of 
all my troubles! I wish holy Artemis would grant me a death as 
sweet as that, this very moment, and save me from wasting my 
life in anguish and longing for all the excellences of my dear 
husband, who was the best man in all Achaea.’ 

She left her gay apartment and went downstairs, not by her¬ 
self, but with the two waiting-women in attendance. When she 
reached her lovers the great lady drew a fold ofher bright head¬ 
dress across her cheeks and took her stand by a pillar of the 
massive roof, with one ofher faithful maids on either side. 

Her appearance staggered the Suitors. Their hearts were 
melted by desire, and every man among them prayed that he 
might hold her in his arms. But Penelope turned to her son. 
‘Telemachus,’ she said, ‘your wits have deserted you. As a boy 


you used to have much more sense, but now that you are grown¬ 
up and have entered on manhood, and anyone from the outside 
world, judging by your height and looks, would take you for a 
rich man’s son, you no longer show the same judgement and 
tact. I am thinking of the scene that the house has just witnessed 
and of how you allowed this visitor of ours to be so shamefully 
treated. What if a guest sitting quietly in our hall were to suffer 
some injury from such rough handling? It is on you that people 
would lay the blame and the disgrace.’ 

‘Mother,’ Telemachus soberly replied, ‘I cannot resent your 
indignation at what happened. In my own heart I can tell right 
from wrong well enough -1 am not the child I was. But it is im¬ 
possible for me always to take the sensible line. I am prevented 
by these mischief-makers who surround me here: and there s 
no one to support me. However, this fight between the stranger 
and Irus did not go as the Suitors wished, but the stranger won. 
Ah, Father Zeus, Athene, and Apollo, how I should love, this 
very day in our palace, to see these Suitors beaten men, scat¬ 
tered about in the courtyard and indoors with their heads lolling 
on their shoulders and the strength knocked out of all theii 
limbs, just like Irus sitting out there at the courtyard gate, wag¬ 
ging his head like a drunkard and unable to stand up on his fee 
and find his way home since he’s a broken man! 

Eurymachus put an end to this conversation by addressing ; 
compliment to the queen. ‘Daughter oflcarius, wise Penelope, 
he said, ‘if all the Achaeans in Ionian Argos could set eyes oi 
you, these walls of yours would see an even greater gathering o 
lovers at tomorrow’s feast, for in beauty, stature, and sens 
there is not a woman to touch you.’ 

‘Ah, Eurymachus,’ the prudent Penelope replied, ‘all meri 
grace, or beauty that I had the gods destroyed when the Argiv< 
embarked for Ilium and my husband Odysseus joined the 
ranks. If he could return and devote himself to me, my goo 
name might indeed be embellished and enhanced. But I am le 
to my misery: the powers above have heaped so many troufel 

n my head. I well remember, when he left this land of his, ho 


he held me by the wrist of my right hand and said: “Wife, one 
thing is certain - not all our soldiers will return from Troy un¬ 
hurt. For they say the Trojans are good fighters too, either with 
javelin and bow, or from the swift horse-chariots that suddenly 
turn the scale in a pitched battle. So I cannot say whether the 
gods will let me come back or whether I shall fall onTrojansoil. 
But I leave everything here in your charge. Look after my 
father and mother in the house as you do now, or with even 
greater care when I am gone. And when you see a beard on our 
boy’s chin, marry whomsoever you fancy and leave your 
home.” That is what he said; and now it is all coming true. I see 
approaching me the night when I must accept a union I shall 
loathe; heaven has destroyed my happiness and left me forlorn. 

‘Meanwhile here is something that is causing me the utmost 
mortification. Yours is by no means the good old way for 
rivals to conduct their suit for a gentlewoman and a rich man’s 
daughter! Surely it is usual for the suitors to bring in their own 
cattle and sheep to make a banquet for the lady’s friends, and 
also to give her valuable presents, but not to enjoy free meals at 
someone else’s expense.’ 

Odysseus was delighted at this speech. He liked to see her ex¬ 
torting tribute from her lovers and bewitching them by her 
coquetry, while all the time her heart was set on quite a different 

It was Antinous, Eupeithes’ son, who answered her. 
‘Daughter oflcarius, wise Penelope,’ he said, ‘by all means ac¬ 
cept every gift that any of us may arrange to send you - and 
none could well refuse such a request. But let me add that we 
will not return to our own estates nor go anywhere else till you 
marry the best man among us.’ 

The others agreed and each sent off his squire to fetch a gift. 
For Antinous they brought a long embroidered robe of the 
most beautiful material on which were fixed a dozen golden 
brooches, each fitted with a curved sheath for the pin; and for 
Eurymachus a golden chain of exquisite workmanship strung 
with amber beads that gleamed like the sun. For Eurydamas his 


2/ 84 


two squires brought a pair of ear-rings, each a thing of lamben 
beauty with its cluster of three drops; while from the house 0 
Prince Peisander, Polyctor’s son, there came a servant with 
necklace which was a lovely piece ofjewellery too. Thus each 0 
the young lords contributed his own valuable gift, and present!; 
the lady Penelope withdrew to her upper apartment escorted b; 
her waiting-women, who carried the magnificent presents. 

From then till dusk the Suitors gave themselves up to th 
pleasures of dancing and delights of song. When night fell, i 
found them making merry still. So they set up three braziers h 
the hall to give them light, heaped them with faggots of dr 
wood thoroughly seasoned and newly split, and thrust som 
burning brands into each pile. The palace maids took it in turn 
to tend the lights, until King Odysseus himself intervened. 

‘Away, you masterless maids/ he said, ‘to the apartment 
where you’ll find your mistress. Give her the pleasure of seeinj 
you sitting at home, turning the spindle at her side or cardinj 
wool with your hands. Meanwhile, I shall provide light for th 
company, and even if they wish to carry on till the peep of da; 
they won’t exhaust me. I am far too tough for that/ 

The girls laughed and exchanged glances. But the rosy 
cheeked Melantho flared up at him. She was a daughter 0 
Dolius, whom Penelope had reared and looked after as tender! 
as her own child/giving her all the playthings she could desire 
But her care was not requited: the girl had no sympathy £0 
Penelope’s woes; she loved Eurymachus and had become hi 
mistress. Rounding on Odysseus now, she gave him the roug] 
side ofher tongue: ‘You must be soft in the head, you disreput 
able old vagabond! Why not go for your night’s lodging to th 
smithy or some other hostel, instead of coming here and airinj 
your views so boldly and disrespectfully before all these gentle 
men? The wine has fuddled your wits, or perhaps you talk sud 
nonsense only because they are always like that. Has the drub 
bing you gave the beggar Irus gone to your head? Look out, 
say, or a better man than Irus will stand up to hammer it wit 
his great fists and send you packing with a bloody nose/ 

-374 ] the beggar in the palace 285 

* Brazen hussy/retorted the great Odysseus, glowering down 
upon her, ‘ I shall go straight over and report you to Telemachus 
for that speech He’ll soon make mincemeat of you’ 

His threat scattered the women, who fled through the house, 
their knees trembling beneath them in alarm, for they had taken 
him at his word But Odysseus took his stand by the burning 
braziers, tending the hghts and keepmg an eye on them all, 
though his thoughts were busy elsewhere with schemes that 
were not doomed to come to nothing 
Athene meanwhile had no intention of allowing the insolent 
Suitors to abandon their offensive ways, she wished the anguish 
to bite deeper yet into Odysseus’ royal heart It was Eury- 
machus’ turn to contribute ajibe at the stranger and raise a laugh 
among his friends ‘Listen*’he cned ‘It has occurred to me-and 
I really must share this idea with my rivals for our noble Queen 
- that some divine being must have guided this fellow to Odys¬ 
seus’ palace At any rate it seems to me that the torch-light 
emanates from the man himself, in fact from that pate of his, 
innocent as it seems of the slightest vestige of hair ’ 

He then turned to Odysseus, the sacker of cities ‘ Stranger,’ 
he said, ‘I wonder how you’d like to work for me if I took you 
on as my man, somewhere on an upland farm, at a proper wage 
of course, building stone dykes and planting trees for timber? 

I should see that you had regular food and provide you with 
clothing and footwear But you’ve learnt such bad habits that I 
expect you’ll jib at farm-work and prefer to beg m the streets 
by way of filing your greedy paunch ’ 

‘I only wish, Eurymachus,’ replied Odysseus, ‘that you and I 
could compete as labourers in the early summer when the days 
draw out, in a hayfield somewhere, I with a crooked reaping- 
hook and you with its fellow, so that we could test each other at 
work, with nothing to eat till well after dusk and plenty of grass 
to cut Or we might have some oxen to drive', tawny great 
thoroughbreds, bursting with fodder and matched in age and 
pulling power It takes a lot to tire a pair like that, and I should 
choose a four-acre field with a clod that yielded nicely to the 

286 ODYSSEY • BOOK XVIII [ 3?s _ 

share. You’d see then whether I could cut a furrow straight 
ahead! Or again I wish some fighting could somehow come our 
way, here and now, and that I had a shield and a couple of spears 
and a bronze helmet fitting round my forehead. It would beout 
in the front line that you’d find me then, and you’d have no 
more quips to make at this paunch of mine. But you, sir, are a 
braggart with the heart of a bully, who take yourself for a big 
man and a hero only because the people you meet are so few, 
and good for nothing at that. Ah, if Odysseus could only come 
home and show himself you’d soon find that wide doorway 
there too narrow in your hurry to get safely out!’ 

Eurymachus’ wrath boiled over. With a black look he 
roundedon Odysseus. ‘Rascal/hecried, ‘I’llsoonmakeyoupay 
for your irreverence and public insults. The wine must have got 
at your wits, or perhaps you talk such trash only because they 
are always like this. Has the drubbing you gave that beggar Irus 
gone to your head? ’ And as he spoke he seized a stool. But Odys¬ 
seus avoided his attack by sitting down at the knees ofAmphino- 
mus of Dulichium, and Eurymachus’ missile struck the wine- 
steward on the right hand so that his jug dropped with a clang 0 n 
the floor and he hi m self with a groan fell backwards in the dust. 

The darkened hall was at once filled with uproar. The Suitors 
looked at each other in alarm and wished that the vagabond had 
come to grief elsewhere, before they had seen him, instead of 
raising all this hubbub in their midst. ‘Here we are,’they said, 
at blows about a beggar-man, and our pleasure in an excellent 
evening’s entertainment is going to be spoiled by this outburst 
of folly.’ 

But now Telemachus spoke out like a prince. ‘Gentlemen,’ 
he said, you are out of your senses. It is obvious what the food 
and wine have done to you. Some power must be stirring you 
up to trouble. Come now; you have dined well: I suggest you 
go home to bed at your leisure, though of course I am hustling 
no one out.’ 

At this they could only bite their lips and wonder that Tele¬ 
machus should have the audacity to address the m so. 



- 428 ] 

At last Amphinomus took it on himself to reply. This prince 
was the son of King Nisus, himself the son of Aretias. ‘My 
friends/ he remarked, ‘when the right thing has been said, 
captious criticism is out of place. Let nobody maltreat this 
stranger or any of the royal servants. Rather, let a wine-steward 
charge each mans cup so that we can make our offerings and go 
home to bed, leaving our visitor here in the palace to Tele- 
machus’ care. For after all it is to his house that he has come/ 

This was a solution that everyone welcomed. Mulius, a 
squire from Dulichium in Amphinomus’ retinue, mixed them 
a bowl of wine and then went the rounds and served them all. 
They poured out their offerings to the blessed gods before 
drinking up the mellow wine, and when they had made their 
libations and drunk all they wanted they dispersed to their 
several homes for the night. 



King Odysseus was left in the deserted hall to plot the de¬ 
struction of the Suitors with Athene’s aid His first step was to 
give his son some instructions 

* Telemachus,’ he said , 4 the arms must be stowed away, to the 
last weapon When the Suitors miss them and ask you what has 
happened, you must lull their suspicions with some plausible 
tale You can say “I have rescued them from the smoke, having 
noticed how different they looked from when Odysseus left 
them and sailed for Troy The fire had got at them and damaged 
them badly It also occurred to me - and this was more senous 
- that smce the very presence of a weapon provokes a man to use 
it you might start quarrelling in your cups and wound each 
other, thus spoiling your festivities and discrediting your suit ” ’ 
Acting at once on his father’s orders, Telemachus called the 
nurse Eurycleia to his side and said 

‘ Good mother, I want you to keep the womenfolk shut up m 
their quarters till I have stowed away my father’s arms in the 
store-room They’re a fine set, but I’ve carelessly left them about 
the place to be tarnished by the smoke ever smce my father 
sailed I was too small then to know better, but now I have de¬ 
cided to pack them away where the fire won’t get at them ’ 
‘My child,’ his fond old nurse replied, ‘happy the day when 
you see fit to worry over your house and look after your be¬ 
longings 1 But tell me, who is to go along with you and carry a 
light? The maids would have done it, but you say you won’t 
have them about ’ 

‘This stranger,’ Telemachus was quick to reply. ‘I keep no 
man idle who has eaten my bread, however far he may have 
tramped ’ 

The old woman could have said more but this silenced her, 


and she locked the door of the women’s quarters, while Odys¬ 
seus and the young prince fell to work at their task of stowing 
away the helmets, the bossed shields, and the pointed spears. 
Pallas Athene herself took the lead, carrying a golden lamp, 
which shed a beautiful radiance over the scene. At this, Tele- 
machus could not restrain a sudden exclamation. ‘Father!’ he 
cried. ‘What is this marvel that I see? The walls of the hall, the 
panels, the pine-wood beams, and the soaring pillars all stand 
out as though there were a blazing fire; or so it seems to me. I 
honestly believe some god from heaven is in the house.’ 

‘ Hush! ’ said the cautious Odysseus. ‘ Keep your own counsel 
and ask no questions. The Olympians have ways of their own, 
and this is an instance. Go to your bed now and leave me here 
to draw out the maids a little more, and your mother also. In 
her distress she is sure to cross-examine me thoroughly.’ 

So Telemachus went off through the hall to bed, and found 
his way by torchlight to his usual sleeping-quarters, where he 
now settled down, as on other nights, to sleep till daybreak. 
Odysseus was left once more in the hall, planning the slaughter 
of his rivals with Athene’s help. 

The wise Penelope now came down from her apartment, 
looking as lovely as Artemis or golden Aphrodite; and they 
drew up a chair for her in her usual place by the fire. It was over¬ 
laid with ivory and silver, and was the work of a craftsman 
called Icmalius. To the framework itselfhe had attached a foot¬ 
rest, over which a large fleece was spread. Penelope took her seat, 
and the white-armed maids, issuing from their quarters, began 
to clear away the remains of the meal, and the tables and cups 
which the menfolk had used for their debauch. They also raked 
out the fire from the braziers onto the floor and heaped them 
high with fresh fuel for light and warmth. 

Melantho seized the occasion to scold Odysseus once again. 
‘Ha! Still here,’ she cried, ‘to plague us all night long, cruising 
around the house and ogling the women! Off with you, wretch, 
and be glad of the supper you had, or you’ll find yourself thrown 
out at the door with a torch about your ears.’ 


Odysseus of the nimble wits turned on her with a frown. * M 
good woman/ he said, ‘why set upon me with such spite? Is 
because, having no choice in the matter, I go dirty and drcsse 
in rags, and pick up my living from door to door like any oth< 
beggar or tramp? If so, let me tell you there was a time when 
too was one of the lucky ones with a rich house to live in, an 
that I’ve often given alms to such a vagrant as myself, no matt 
“who he was or what he wanted. Hundreds of servants I had, ar 
plenty of all one needs to live in luxury and take one’s place a; 
man of means. But Zeus, no doubt for some good reason of 1 
own, stripped me of everything. So look out for yourself, n 
girl, or one day you may lose the fine place you have in t 
household here. Your mistress may fall foul ofyou, or Odysse 
come back. Yes, there’s still a chance of that; while, if he’s real 
dead and gone for ever, he has a son by god’s grace as good 
himself; and there’s no mischief any of you women here m 
do that Telemachus misses. He’s past the age for that.’ 

Penelope, who had listened, rounded in fury on the maid a 
scolded her for a bold and shameless hussy. ‘Make no mistak 
she went on; ‘I heard the whole disgraceful affair and you sb 
pay dearly for what you did. For you knew perfectly well - 
fact you heard me say so - that in my great distress I meant 
examine this stranger here in my house for any news he mij 
have of my husband.’ And turning to Eurynome, the hou 
keeper, she said: ‘ Will you bring a settle here, with a rug on 
for my guest to sit on, so that he and I can talk to one anoth 
I wish to have his whole story from the man.’ 

Eurynome hurried off and came back with a wooden set 
on which she spread a rug. Here the noble and stalwart Odyss 
sat down, and Penelope opened their talk by saying: ‘ Sir, I si 
make so bold as to ask you some questions without further a 
Who are you and where do you hail from? What is your < 
and to what family do you belong?’ 

‘Madam,’ answered the resourceful Odysseus, ‘ there is n 
man in the wide world who could take anything amiss fr 
you. For your fame has reached heaven itself, like that of sc 

29 1 


perfect king, ruling a populous and mighty state with the fear of 
god in his heart, and upholding the right, so that the dark soil 
yields its wheat and barley, the trees are laden with ripe fruit, the 
sheep never fail to bring forth their lambs, nor the sea to provide 
its fish - all as a result ofhis good government - and his people 
prosper under him. Yetjust because you are so good, ask me any 
other questions now that you have me in your house, but do not 
insist on finding out my lineage and my country, or you will 
bring fresh sorrow to my heart by making me recall the past. 
For I have been through many bitter experiences. Yet there is no 
reason why I should sit moaning and lamenting in someone 
else’s house. It’s a bad thing never to stop croaking, and I’m 
afraid some of your maids here or you yourself might find me a 
nuisance and conclude that it was the wine that had gone to my 
head and loosed this flood of tears/ 

4 Sir/ said Penelope, * all merit, grace, or beauty that I had, the 
gods destroyed when the Argives embarked for Ilium and my 
husband Odysseus joined their fleet. If he could return and de¬ 
vote himself to me, my goodnamemightindeed be embellished 
and enhanced. But I am left to my misery: the powers above 
have heaped so many troubles on my head. For of all the island 
chieftains that rule in Dulichium, in Same, and in wooded 
Zacynthus, or that live here in our own sunny Ithaca, there is not 
one that is not forcing his unwelcome suit upon me and plunder¬ 
ing my house. As a result I neglect my guests, I neglect the 
beggar at my door, and even the messengers that come on public 
business. I simply wear my heart out in longing for Odysseus. 
Meanwhile they are pressing me to name my wedding-day and 
I have to think out tricks to fool them with. The first was a real 
inspiration. I set up a great web on my loom here and started 
weaving a large and delicate robe, saying to my suitors: “I 
should be grateful to you young lords who are courting me now 
that King Odysseus is dead, if you could restrainyour ardour for 
my hand till I have done this work, so that the threads I have 
spun may not be altogether wasted. It is a winding-sheet for 
Lord Laertes. When he succumbs to the dread hand of Death 




that stretches all men out at last, I must not risk the scandal there 
would be among my countrywomen here if one who had 
amassed such wealth were laid to rest without a shroud/* That 
is what I put to them, and they had the grace to consent. So by 
day I used to weave at the great web, but every night I had 
torches set beside it and undid the work. For three years they 
were taken in by this stratagem of mine. A fourth began and the 
seasons were already slipping by, when they were given the 
chance by my maids, those irresponsible wretches, of catching 
me unawares at my task. They loaded me with reproaches, and 
I was forced reluctantly to finish the work. And now I can 
neither evade marriage with one of them nor think ofany means 
of escape, particularly as my parents insist that I should take this 
step, while the sight of these people eating him out of house and 
home revolts my son, who realizes well enough what is happen¬ 
ing, being a man by now and well qualified to look after a flour¬ 
ishing estate. However, I do press you still to give me an account 
of yourself, for you certainly did not spring from a tree or a 
rock, like the man in the old story.* 

4 Your majesty,* answered the inventive Odysseus, ‘will you 
never be satisfied till I have given you my pedigree? Very well, 
you shall have it. Yet you will be making me more miserable 
than I already am - as is only to be expected when a man has 
spent so long a time away from home as I have, wandering 
through the world in evil plight from town to town. However, 
here is my tale and an answer to all your questions. 

‘ Out in the dark blue sea there lies a land called Crete, a rich 
and lovely land, washed by the waves on every side, densely 
peopled and boasting ninety cities. Each of the several races of 
the isle has its own language. First there are the Achaeans; then 
the genuine Cretans, proud of their native stock; next the Cydo- 
nians; the Dorians, with their three clans; and finally the noble 
Pelasgians. One of the ninety towns is a great city called Cnossus, 
and there, for nine years, King Minos ruled and enjoyed the 
friendship of almighty Zeus. He was the father of my father, 
the great Deucalion, who had two sons, myself and King 


Idomeneus. At the time I have in mind, Idomeneus had gone off 
in his beaked ships to Ilium with the sons of Atreus; so it fell to 
me, the younger son, Aethon by name, and not so good a man as 
my elder brother, to meet Odysseus and welcome him to Crete, 
where he was brought by a gale which had driven him offhis 
course at Cape Malea when bound for Troy. He put in at Am- 
nisus, where the cave of Eileithyie is - a difficult harbour to 
make; the storm nearly wrecked him. And the first thing he did 
was to go up to the town and ask for Idomeneus, whom he de¬ 
scribed as a dear and honoured friend. But nine or ten days had 
already gone by since Idomeneus had sailed for Ilium in his 
beaked ships. So I took Odysseus to my house and made him 
thoroughly welcome. My own wealth at the time enabled me 
to entertain him lavishly; and as for his following, by drawing 
on the public store I provided him with com and wine as well as 
cattle to slaughter to their hearts* content. The good fellows 
stayed with me for twelve days, pent up by that northerly gale, 
which they couldn’t even stand up to on dry land, some hostile 
power made it blow so hard. But on the thirteenth the wind 
fell and they put out to sea/ 

He made all these lying yams ofhis so convincing that, as she 
listened, the tears poured from Penelope’s eyes and bedewed her 
cheeks. As the snow that the west wind has brought melts on the 
mountain-tops when the east wind thaws it, and, melting, 
makes the rivers run in spate, so did the tears she shed drench her 
fair cheeks as she wept for the husband who was sitting at her 
side. But though Odysseus’ heart was wrung by his wife’s dis¬ 
tress, his eyes, hard as horn or iron, never wavered between their 
lids, so craftily did he repress his tears. 

When Penelope had wept to her heart’s content she returned 
to her interrogation. ‘ I feel, sir,’ she said, ‘ that it is time I put you 
to the proof and found out whether you really entertained my 
husband and his gallant company in your Cretan home as you 
have stated. Tellmewhat sortofclothes he was wearing and what 
he looked like; and describe the men who were with him also.’ 

‘Mistress,’ replied Odysseus, ‘it is not easy to describe a man 




when one has not seen him for so long; and nineteen years hav 
passed since Odysseus sailed from my country. However, I’] 
give you the picture ofhim that I have in my min d’s eye. Mi 
lord wore a thick purple cloak folded back on itself and display 
mg a golden brooch with a pair of sheaths for the pins. Then 
was a device on the face ofit: a hound holding down a dapple< 
fawn in his forepaws and ripping it as it struggled. Everyom 
admired the workmanship, the hound ripping and throttling 
the fawn, the fawn lashing out with his feet in his efforts tc 
escape - and the whole thing done in gold. I noticed his tuni< 
too. It gleamed on his body like the skin of a dried onion, it was 
so smooth; and it shone like the sun. I tell you, all the women 
were fascinated by him. At the same time you must remember 
that I cannot say whether Odysseus wore these clothes at home, 
or whether they had been given him by one ofhis friends when 
he embarked, or by some acquaintance he visited, for Odysseus 
was very popular and there were few ofhis countrymen like 
him. I myself gave him a bronze sword, a fine purple mantle, 
and a tunic with a fringe, and I saw him off with all honours on 
his well-found ship. And here’s another thing. He had a squire 
in his retinue who was a little older than himself. I’ll tell you 
what he looked like too. He was round in the shoulders and had 
a dark complexion and curly hair. Eurybates was his name, and 
Odysseus thought more ofhim than of anyone else in his com¬ 
pany, for the squire saw eye to eye with his leader/ 

Odysseus’ descriptions made Penelope even more disposed to 
weep, recognizing, as she did, all that he so faithfully portrayed. 
She found relief in tears once more, then turned to him and said; 
‘Sir, I pitied you before; but now you shall be a dear and 
honoured guest in my house. For it was I who gave him those 
clothes, just as you describe them; I who took them from our 
store-room; I who folded them and put in the bright brooch as 
an ornament for him. And now I shall never welcome him 
home to the land he loved so well. Aye, ’twas an evil day when 
Odysseus sailed in his hollow ship to that accursed city which I 
loathe to name.’ 



‘ My lady and my Queen/ replied the subtle Odysseus, * I beg 
you not to spoil those fair cheeks any more nor to wring your 
heart by weeping for your husband. Not that I blame you. Any 
woman mourns when she loses the husband whose love she has 
enjoyed and whose children she has borne, however poorly that 
husband might compare with Odysseus, whom people speak 
about as though he were a god. But dry your tears now and 
hear what I have to say. I am speaking the truth and nothing but 
the truth when I tell you that I have news of Odysseus’ return, 
that he’s alive and near, actually in the rich land ofThesprotia, 
and that he’s bringing home a great fortune acquired in his deal¬ 
ings abroad. On the other hand he has lost all his company and 
his good ship on the high seas. This happened soon after they 
left the island ofThrinacie. Zeus and the Sun-god were infuri¬ 
ated with him because his men had killed the cattle of the Sun; 
and his whole crew found a watery grave. But he himself clung 
to the keel ofhis boat and was cast on shore by the waves in the 
country of the Phaeacians, who are cousins to the gods. These 
people in the goodness of their hearts paid him divine honours, 
showered gifts upon him, and were anxious to see him safely 
home themselves. Indeed Odysseus would have been here long 
ago, had he not thought it the more profitable course to travel 
about in the pursuit of wealth - which shows that in business 
enterprise he is unsurpassed; in fact not a man alive can rival 
him. I had all this from Pheidon, the Thesprotian king, who 
moreover swore in my presence over a drink-offering in his 
palace that a ship with a crew standing by was waiting on the 
beach to convey Odysseus to his own country. But Pheidon 
sent me off before him as a Thesprotian ship happened to be 
starting for the com island ofDulichium. He even showed me 
what wealth Odysseus had amassed. The amount of treasure 
stored up for him there in the king’s house would keep a man 
and his heirs to the tenth generation. 

* Odysseus himself, Pheidon said, had gone to Dodona to find 
out the will of Zeus from the great oak-tree that is sacred to the 
god, and to discover how he should approach his own island of 




Ithaca after so long an absence, whether to return openly or in 

‘ So you see that he is safe and will soon be back. Indeed, he is 
very close. His exile from his friends and country will be ended 
soon; and whether you ask it or not you shall have my oath to 
that effect. I swear first by Zeus, the best and greatest of the gods, 
and then by the good Odysseus’ hearth which I have come to, 
that everything will happen as I foretell. This very year Odys¬ 
seus will be here, between the waning of the old moon and the 
waxing of the new.’ 

4 Sir/ the wise queen replied to this, ‘ may what you say prove 
true! If it does, you shall learn from my liberality what my 
friendship means and the world will envy you your luck. But 
the future that my heart forebodes is different. I neither see 
Odysseus coming home, nor you securing your passage hence; 
for we have no one in command here, no leader of men, such as 
Odysseus (if ever there was such a man), to receive strangers 
with proper respect and send them on their way. But, come, my 
maids, you must wash our visitor’s feet and spread a bed for him, 
with mattress, blankets, and clean sheets, so that he may lie in 
warmth and comfort till Dawn takes her golden throne; and the 
first thing in the morning you must give him a bath and rub him 
down with oil so that he may feel ready to take his place beside 
Telemachus at breakfast in the hall. And if any of those men is 
spiteful enough to plague our guest, so much the worse for him. 
His chances of succeeding here will vanish: he can rage and 
fume as he will. For how are you, sir, to find out whether I really 
have more sense and forethought than other women, if you sit 
down to meals unkempt and ill-clad in my house? Man’s life is 
short enough. A churlish fellow with no idea of hospitality 
earns the whole world’s ill-will while he is alive and its con¬ 
tempt when he is dead; whereas when a man does kind things 
because his heart is in the right place his reputation is spread far 
and wide by the guests he befriends, and he has no lack of people 
to sing his praises.’ 

‘Honoured lady/ replied the cautious Odysseus, ‘I must 


admit that I have taken a dislike to blankets and clean sheets 
since I sailed off in my galley and said farewell to the snow¬ 
capped hills of Crete. So I will lie just as I have often lain and 
kept vigil in the past. For many’s the night I’ve spent on some 
unseemly couch, waiting for the gold light of the blessed Dawn. 
Nor does the prospect of a foot-bath appeal to me much. I 
shouldn’t care for any of your maid-servants here to touch my 
feet, unless there is some old and respectable dame who has had 
as much experience in life as I have. If there is such a one, I 
should not object to her handling my feet.’ 

To which the wise Penelope replied: ‘My dear friend - as I 
cannot help calling the wisest guest this house has ever wel¬ 
comed from abroad, for you put everything so well and you 
talk so sensibly -1 have just such an old woman, a decent soul, 
who faithfully nursed my unhappy husband and brought him 
up; in fact she took him in her arms the moment he was bom. 
She shall wash your feet, although she is somewhat past her 
work. Come, Eurycleia, and do this service for one who is of the 
same age as your master. Yes, and no doubt Odysseus’ hands and 
feet are like our guest’s by now, for men age quickly in mis¬ 

At this, the old woman covering her face with her hands 
burst into tears and gave voice to her grief: ‘Alas, my child, that 
there shouldn’t be a thing that I can do for you! Zeus must in¬ 
deed have hated you above all men, god-fearing though you 
were. For no one ever burnt for the Thunderer so many fat 
pieces from the thigh and such choice sacrifices as you used to 
offer him when you prayed that jou might age in comfort and 
see your son grow up like a prince. Yet you are the only one of 
whose home-coming he has said: “It shall not be.” I keep think¬ 
ing of the women in some foreign land mocking my master 
when he called at this great house or that, just as you, sir, have 
been mocked by all these bitches here, whose insolence and 
vulgar gibes you wished to spare yourself when you refused to 
let them wash your feet. Well, my wise Queen has given me the 
task, and I am most willing. I will bathe your feet, both for 



[ 377 “ 

Penelope 9 s sake and for your own, since your unhappiness has 
touched my heart. But hear me out: there’s something else I 
want to say. We have had plenty of wayworn travellers here 
before, but not one that I have seen has reminded me so strongly 
of anyone as your looks and your voice and your very feet re¬ 
mind me of Odysseus/ 

‘My good dame/ said Odysseus, on his guard, ‘that is what 
everyone thinks who has set eyes on us both. They say we are 
remarkably alike, as you yourself have so shrewdly observed.’ 

The old woman fetched a clean basin which was used as a 
foot-bath, poured plenty of cold water in and added warm. 
Odysseus was sitting at the hearth, but now he swung abruptly 
round to face the dark, for it had struck him suddenly that in 
handling him she might notice a certain scar he had, and his 
secret would be out. Indeed, when Eurycleia came up to her 
master and began to wash him, she recognized the scar at once. 

Years before, Odysseus had received a wound from the white 
tusk of a boar when on a visit to Autolycus and his sons. This 
nobleman, his mother’s father, was the most accomplished thief 
and liar ofhis day. He owed his pre-eminence to the god Hermes 
himself, whose favour he sought by sacrificing lambs and kids in 
his honour, and in whom he secured a willing confederate. He 
went over once to the rich island oflthaca, where he found that 
his daughter hadjust given birth to a son. Eurycleia put the baby 
on its grandfather’s knees as he finished supper, and said: Auto¬ 
lycus, perhaps you can think of a name to give your daughter s 
son, whom we have so long been praying for. 

By way of answer, Autolycus turned to his son-in-law and 
daughter and said: ‘ Yes, let me be his godfather. In the course of 
my lifetime I have made enemies of many a man and woman up 
and down the wide world. So let this child be called Odysseus, 
“ the victim of enmity”. And when he has grown up and comes 
to his mother’s old home at Parnassus, where I keep my wordly 
goods, I will give him a share of them and send him back a happy 

This led in due course to a visit from Odysseus, who went 


over to receive his grandfather’s gifts. Autolycus and his sons 
gave him a friendly welcome. They shook him warmly by the 
hand, and his grandmother, Amphithee, threw her arms round 
his neck and kissed him on the forehead and on both his eyes. 
Autolycus told his sons to make preparations for a banquet. No¬ 
thing loath, they quickly brought in a five-year-old bull, which 
they flayed and prepared by cutting up the carcass and deftly 
chopping it into small pieces. These they pierced with spits, 
carefully roasted, and served in portions. And so they banqueted 
for the rest of the day till sunset, all sharing alike and all con¬ 
tented with their share. When the sun sank and darkness fell, 
they went off to their beds to enjoy the blessing of sleep. 

Early next day at the first blush of dawn Autolycus’ sons 
accompanied by the good Odysseus set out for the chase with 
a pack of hounds. Climbing the steep and wooded heights of 
Parnassus, they soon found themselves on the windswept folds 
of the mountain; and it was just as the Sun, fresh from the deep 
and quiet Stream of Ocean, was touching the plough-lands with 
his first beams that the beaters reached a certain wooded glen. 
The hounds, hot on a scent, preceded them. Behind came Auto¬ 
lycus’ sons, and with them the good Odysseus, close up on the 
pack and swinging his long spear. It was at this spot that a 
mighty boar had his lair, in a thicket so dense that when the 
winds blew moist not a breath could get inside, nor when the 
Sun shone could his rays penetrate the darkness, nor could the 
rain soak right through to the ground, which moreover was 
littered with an abundance of dead leaves. However, the boar 
heard the footfalls of the men and hounds as they pressed for¬ 
ward in the chase. He sallied out from his den and with bristling 
back and eyes aflame he faced the hunt. Odysseus was the first to 
act. Poising his long spear in his great hand, he rushed in, eager 
to score a hit. But the boar was too quick and caught him above 
the knee, where he gave him a long flesh-wound with a cross 
lunge of his tusk, but failed to reach the bone. Odysseus’ thrust 
went home as well. He struck him on the right shoulder, and the 
point of his bright spear transfixed the boar, who sank to earth 

300 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIX [ 454 " 

with a grunt and there gave up his life. Autolycus’ sons took 
charge of the carcass. They also carefully bandaged the brave 
young prince’s wound, staunching the dark blood with a spell; 
and before long they were back at home. 

Under the care of Autolycus and his sons, Odysseus recovered 
from his injury and in due course, loaded with presents, was 
given a happy send-off to his own home in Ithaca. His father and 
his gentle mother were delighted to see him back. They asked 
him about all his adventures, in particular how he had come by 
his scar, and Odysseus told them how in the course of the chase 
he had been gashed by a boar’s tusk on the expedition to Parnassus 
with Autolycus’ sons. 

Now, as the old woman passsed her hands over this scar, she 
recognized the feel of it and abruptly let go her master’s foot, 
which made the metal ring as it dropped against the basin, up¬ 
setting it and spilling all the water on the floor. Delight and 
anguish swept through her heart together; her eyes were filled 
with tears; her voice was strangled by emotion. She lifted her 
hand to Odysseus’ chin and said, ‘ Of course, you are Odysseus, 
my dear child. And to think that I didn’t know you till I’d 
handled all my master’s limbs!’ 

With this she turned her eyes in Penelope’s direction, as 
though to let her know that her own husband was in the room. 
But Penelope was not prepared to meet her glance or under¬ 
stand it, for Athene had distracted her attention. In the mean¬ 
time Odysseus’ right hand sought and gripped the old woman’s 
throat, while with the other he pulled her closer to him. 

‘Nurse,’ he said, ‘do you wish to ruin me, you who reared 
me at your own breast? I am indeed home after nineteen years 
ofhard adventure. But since by some unlucky chance you have 
lit on the fact, keep your mouth shut and let not a soul in the 
house learn the truth. Otherwise I tell you plainly - and you 
know I make no idle threats - that if I am lucky enough to de¬ 
feat these love-sick noblemen, I won’t spare you, though you’re 
my own nurse, on the day when I put the rest of the maids in 
m palace to death.’ 


‘ My child/ Eurycleia replied in her wisdom, ‘no need to talk 
like that to me. You know well enough how staunch and hard I 
am. I’ll keep silent as a block of stone or iron. Remember this 
too, that if you have the luck to bring these insolent lordlings 
down, I shall be ready to inform you about all the women in 
your household and to pick out the disloyal from the innocent/ 

‘And what/ said the self-reliant Odysseus, ‘ would be the good 
of that? I do not need your help, for on my own account I shall 
take note of each and mark them down. Meanwhile keep all 
this to yourself and leave the issue to the gods/ 

Thus admonished, the old woman went out of the hall to 
fetch water for his feet, since the whole basinful was spilt. When 
she had washed and rubbed them with olive-oil, Odysseus drew 
his settle up to the fire once more in order to get warm, and 
covered the scar with his rags. 

It was Penelope who reopened their talk. ‘ Sir/ she said, ‘ I shall 
venture to detain you yet a while and put another matter to you, 
and this although I know the time for sleep is drawing near - at 
least for those whose grief allows them such a sweet reprieve. 
But in my own case, heaven seems to have set no limit to my 
misery. For by day my one relief is to weep and sigh as I go 
about my tasks and supervise the household work; but when 
night falls and brings all others sleep, I lie down on my bed, 
and care comes with a thousand stings to prick my heavy heart 
and turn dejection into torture. You know how Pandareus* 
daughter, the brown nightingale, perched in the dense foliage of 
the trees, makes her sweet music when the spring is young, and 
with how many turns and trills she pours out her full-throated 
song in sorrow for Itylus her beloved son, King Zethus* child, 
whom in her careless folly she killed with her own hand. So does 
my inclination waver, first to this side, then to that. Am I to stay 
with my son and keep everything intact, my belongings, my 
servants, and this great house of ours, in loyalty to my husband’s 
bed and deference to public opinion? Or shall I go away now 
with the best and most generous of my suitors here in the palace? 
For I must tell you that my son, while still an irresponsible child, 

302 ODYSSEY • BOOK XIX [531- 

made it out of the question for me to leave my husband’s house 
and marry again. But now that he has grown up and entered 
on manhood, he actually implores me to take myself off, so 
concerned is he for his estate, which he sees the young lords 
eating up. 

‘But enough. Let me ask you to interpret a dream of mine 
which I shall now describe. I keep a flock of twenty geese in the 
place. They come in from the pond to pick up their grain and 
I delight in watching them. In my dream I saw a great eagle 
swoop down from the hills and break their necks with his 
crooked beak, killing them all. There they lay in a heap on the 
floor while he vanished in the open sky. I wept and cried aloud, 
though it was only a dream, and Achaean ladies gathering about 
me found me sobbing my heart out because the eagle had 
slaughtered my geese. But the bird came back. He perched on a 
jutting timber of the roof, and breaking into human speech he 
checked my tears. “Take heart,” he said, 4 ‘ daughter of the noble 
Icarius. This is not a dream but a happy reality which you shall 
see fulfilled. The geese were your lovers, and I that played the 
eagle’s part am now your husband, home again and ready to 
deal out grim punishment to every man among them.” At this 
point I awoke. I looked around me and there I saw the geese in 
the yard pecking their grain at the trough in their accustomed 

* Lady,’ replied the subtle Odysseus , 4 nobody could force any 
other meaning on this dream; you have learnt from Odysseus 
himselfhow he will translate it into fact. Clearly, the Suitors are 
all of them doomed: there is not one who will get away alive.’ 

‘Dreams, sir,’ said the cautious Penelope, ‘are awkward and 
confusing things: not all that people see in them comes true. 
For there are two gates through which these insubstantial 
visions reach us; one is of horn and the other of ivory. Those 
that come through the ivory gate cheat us with empty promises 
that never see fulfilment; while those that issue from the gate of 
burnished horn inform the dreamer what will really happen. 
But I fear it was not from this source that m own strange 


dream took wing, much as I and my son should rejoice if it 
proved so. 

‘ However, I meant to tell you something else that will give 
you matter for thought. The hateful day is drawing very near 
which is to tear me from Odysseus’ house. For I intend shortly 
to propose a trial of strength, using the very axes which he some¬ 
times set up here at home, twelve in a row like the props under a 
new keel. Standing a good way off, he could shoot an arrow 
through them all. And now I am going to make the Suitors 
compete in the same test of skill. Whichever proves the handiest 
at stringing the bow and shoots an arrow through each of the 
twelve axes, with that man I will go, bidding goodbye to this 
house that welcomed me as a bride, this lovely house so full of 
all good things, this home which even in my dreams I never 
shall forget/ 

‘Royal lady,’ Odysseus answered, with subtle intent, ‘the 
sooner you hold this contest in the palace the better, for that 
arch-contriver Odysseus himself will be here long before those 
fellows have fumbled the string onto that fine bow ofhis and 
shot an arrow through the iron marks/ 

‘Ah, my friend/ said the wise Penelope, ‘if you would only 
sit here at my side in the hall and entertain me, my eyes would 
never close in drowsiness. But no one can do without sleep for 
ever. It has its allotted place in our daily lives, like everything 
else. So now I shall withdraw upstairs to lie down on what has 
always been for me a bed of sorrows, watered by my perpetual 
tears, since the day when Odysseus sailed away to that accursed 
city which I loathe to name. So much for me. And as for you, 
whether you spread yourself something on the floor or let them 
make you a proper bed, the house is at your disposal for the 

So Penelope went up to her beautiful room, escorted by the 
ladies in attendance. But as soon as they were all upstairs, she 
broke down and wept for Odysseus, her beloved husband, till 
Athene brought her the sweet gift of sleep. 



Meanwhile Odysseus prepared himself for sleep in the por 
tico He spread an untanned oxhide on the floor and piled it uj 
with plenty of fleeces, from sheep that the young lords hac 
slaughtered as their habit was, and Eurynome cast a mantle ovei 
him when he had settled down As he lay there brewing trouble 
for his rivals and unable to sleep, a party of womeiffolk, the 
Suitors’ mistresses, came trooping out of the house with many 
a laugh and interchange of pleasantries Odysseus’ gorge rose 
within him Yet he was quite uncertain what to do and he de¬ 
bated long Should he dash after them and put them all to death, 
or should he let them spend this one last night m the arms of their 
profligate lovers 7 The thought made him snarl with repressed 
fury, like a bitch that snarls and shows fight as she takes her stand 
above her helpless puppies when a stranger comes by So did 
Odysseus growl to himself in sheer revolt at these licentious 
ways But m the end he brought his fist down on his heart and 
called it to order ‘ Patience, my heart > ’ he said ‘ You had a far 
more loathsome thing than this to put up with when the savage 
Cyclops devoured those gallant men And yet you managed to 
hold out, till cunning got you clear of the cave where you had 
thought your end had come ’ 

But though he was able by such self-rebuke to quell all 
mutiny in his heart and steel it to endure, Odysseus nevertheless 
could not help tossing to and fro on his bed, just as a paunch 
stuffed with fat and blood is tossed this way and that in the blaze 
of the fire by a cook who wants to get it quickly roasted Twist¬ 
ing and turning thus to one side and the other, he was wondering 
how single-handed against such odds he should come to grips 
with his unprincipled rivals, when Athene d es ce nd ed from 
heaven and approached him in the form of a woman She leant 


over his head and spoke to him: ‘ Sleepless again, poor wretch? 
And why? Is not this house your home? Is not your wife inside 
it, and your son as well, a lad whom any man might wish his 
son to match?* 

‘Goddess,* replied Odysseus with his usual forethought, ‘all 
that you say is true. And yet I am in some perplexity. How on 
earth am I to attack these young profligates ? I am alone, whereas 
they always stick together in a crowd when they are here. And 
there’s another and still graver matter on my mind. If by Zeus* 
grace and yours I bring about their deaths, to what safe refuge 
can I fly? These are the problems I should like you to con¬ 

‘How hard you are to please!’ exclaimed the bright-eyed 
goddess. ‘Most people are content to put their trust in far less 
powerful allies, mere men and not equipped with wisdom such 
as mine. But I that have never ceased to watch over you in all 
your adventures am a goddess. Will this make you understand? 
If you and I were surrounded by fifty companies of men-at- 
arms, all thirsting for your blood, you could drive away their 
cows and sheep beneath their very noses. Come now, give your¬ 
self up to sleep. It is mere vexation to lie awake and watch the 
whole night through; and presently you’ll rise above your 
troubles.’ With which the lady goddess closed his eyes in sleep 
and withdrew to Olympus. 

But sleep had no sooner come to Odysseus, resolving all his 
cares as it relaxed his limbs, than his faithful wife awoke, and 
sitting up in her soft bed gave way to tears; then, tired of weep¬ 
ing, she had recourse to prayer. ‘Great Artemis, Daughter of 
Zeus,’ she prayed, for it was to Artemis that the noble lady’s 
thoughts had flown, ‘ oh for an arrow from your bow to pierce 
my heart and take away my spirit in this very hour! Or let the 
Storm-wind snatch me up and vanish with me down the ways 
of darkness to drop me where the sea runs into the circling 
Stream of Ocean -just as the daughters ofPandareus were rapt 
away by the Demons of the Storm. The gods had robbed them 
of their parents and left them orphaned in their home; and yet 

30 6 ODYSSEY • BOOK XX [ft. 

they lived, and flourished on the cheese, the sweet honey, and 
the mellow wine that Aphrodite brought them, while Here 
made them beautiful and wise beyond all other women, chaste 
Artemis increased their stature, and Athene taught them the 
skilled handicrafts that are a woman's pride. But there came a 
day when the Lady Aphrodite, eager to make happy marriages 
for them all, went up to high Olympus to consult with Zeus the 
Thunderer, who knows so well what good and evil is allotted to 
each one of us on earth - and on that very day the Storm-Fiends 
snatched them up and gave them to the hateful Erinyes to serve 
their beck and call. Gods of Olympus, blot me out like that; or 
strike me dead, fair Artemis, so that I may sink into the very 
bowels of the earth with Odysseus' image in my heart, rather 
than serve the pleasures of a lesser man. 

*Ah, it is hard but not beyond endurance, when sick at heart 
one weeps the whole day long but is possessed by sleep at night, 
sleep which the moment that it seals one's eyes drives out all con¬ 
sciousness of good and bad alike. But even the dreams that 
heaven inflicts on me are evil. This very night again I thought I 
saw Odysseus by me in the bed, looking exactly as he looked 
when he sailed away with the fleet; and my heart leapt up, since 
I took it for no dream but actual fact.' 

Close on her prayers came Dawn and filled the East with gold. 
Odysseus was disturbed by the sounds of Penelope's distress. Fie 
recognized her voice and in a waking dream he seemed to see 
her beside him with the light of recognition in her eyes. I le took 
the cloak and sheepskins from his bed and put them on a chair 
indoors, carried the oxhide out and laid it down, then lifted up 
his hands in prayer: ‘ O Father Zeus, if it is true that after all your 
persecution you gods by your grace brought me home over dry 
land and sea to my own country, let someone in the house, 
where they are waking now, utter a lucky word for me and let 
some other sign be given out of doors.' 

No sooner had he made his prayer than Zeus the Counsellor 
thundered in answer from his throne above the mists on the 
dazzling heights of Olympus. Royal Odysseus rejoiced; and 




close upon this came the precious words he wanted, from a 
female slave in a building near by, where the King’s hand-mills 
stood. Twelve women had to toil away at these mills, grinding 
the barley and the wheat into meal for the household bread. At 
the moment they had all ground their share and gone ofF to 
sleep, all except one not so vigorous as the rest, who had not yet 
finished her task. This woman stopped her mill now and uttered 
the words that meant so much to her master: ‘Zeus, lord of 
heaven and earth, what thunder from a starry sky! And never a 
cloud in sight! You must have meant it for some lucky man. 
Listen to poor me too, and let my wish come true. Here his. Let 
this very day see the end of these junketings in the palace. Ter¬ 
rible work this, grinding the meal for the young lords. They’ve 
broken my back. May this be their last dinner, say I.’ 

The woman’s ominous words combined with the clap of 
thunder to make Odysseus a happy man. He felt that revenge 
on the miscreants was in his hands. 

By this time the palace maid-servants had assembled for work 
and were making up the fire which never quite died down on 
the hearth. Telemachus put on his clothes and got up from his 
bed, fresh as a young god. He slung his sharp sword from his 
shoulder, bound a stout pair of sandals on his comely feet, 
picked up his great bronze-pointed spear, and made his way to 
the threshold, where he paused for a word with Eurycleia. 

‘ My dear nurse,’ he said,‘ did you women attend properly to 
our visitor here, in the matter of food and bedding? Or did you 
leave him to sleep as best he could? That would be just like my 
mother, who for all her wisdom is far too ready to make much 
of a ne’er-do-well and send a better man packing.’ 

‘Come, my child,’ said Eurycleia reasonably, ‘don’t blame 
her when there is no cause. The man sat and drank as long as he 
wished; while, as for food, he said he had no appetite for more. 
Your mother asked him; and when the time came to think of 
sleep, she told the servants to spread him a proper bed. But like a 
poor fellow utterly down on his luck, he refused to sleep be¬ 
tween blankets on a bed, and lay down instead on an undressed 




hide and some sheepskins in the portico. The mantle over him 
was due to us.* 

When he had heard this, Telemachus set out from the hall, 
swinging his spear, and with a couple of dogs trotting beside 
him made his way to the market-place to join his fellow- 
countrymen. Meanwhile Eurycleia, as befitted her gentle birth 
- she was the daughter of Ops, Peisenor’s son - issued her orders 
to the rest of the staff. 

‘To work!’ she called. ‘You there, sweep and sprinkle the 
floors. Look sharp about it, and don’t forget to spread the purple 
coverings on the chairs. And you, sponge all the tables down, 
and wash the wine-bowls and the best two-handled cups. And 
you others, run off to the well and fetch us some water as quick 
as you can. For we shall soon have the young lords in the place. 
They’re coming early: today’s a public holiday.’ 

The girls flew to their duties. Twenty went off to draw water 
from the depths of the well, while the rest got on with the work 
indoors like well-trained maids. The gentlemen’s men-servants 
next appeared, and chopped up the fire-wood in a neat and 
businesslike manner. The womenfolk soon came back from the 
well, and were joined by the swineherd, who drove up three 
fatted hogs, the pick of all his beasts. He left the animals to nose 
around for food in the ample courtyard, and came up to Odys¬ 
seus, whom he greeted affably: ‘ Well, friend, are you in better 
odour with the young lords, or do they still turn up their noses 
at you here?* 

c Ah, Eumaeus,’ answered Odysseus, ‘how I hope that the 
gods may some day pay the villains out for their insolence and 
intolerable behaviour in another man’s house! They have not a 
shred of decency among them.’ 

While the two were chatting together, up came Melanthius 
the goatherd, driving in the choice goats from his flocks for the 
Suitors’ table. There were two other herdsmen with him. They 
tied up the goats under the echoing portico, and Melanthius 
began baiting Odysseus once more : 4 What, you still here? Still 
set on begging from the gentlemen and upsetting the whole 


house, rather than pack yourself off? I fancy that you and I will 
have to sample each other’s fists before we say goodbye. For I 
don’t like your way of begging. And anyhow this house is not 
the only one where people dine.’ 

Odysseus was prudent enough to give him back not a single 
word. He merely shook his head in silence, though his heart 
seethed with evil thoughts. 

A third new arrival was the master-herdsman Philoetius, 
who was driving in a heifer and some fatted goats for the 
Suitors. These beasts had been brought over from the mainland 
by the ferryman who run a service for any travellers that turn 
up. Philoetius carefully tethered his animals under the echoing 
portico, and came up to the swineherd with a question. e Who is 
this stranger,’ he asked, ‘ that has just come to our house? Where 
does he hail from according to his own account? Who might his 
people be, and what is his native place? He seems down on his 
luck, and yet he has the bearing of a royal prince. But the gods 
spoil a man’s looks, even though he was bom in a palace, when 
they force him to the wretched life of the road.’ 

With this, he went up to Odysseus, proffered his hand and 
greeted him with warmth. *A welcome to you, my ancient 
friend! You are under the weather now; but here’s to your 
future happiness! Father Zeus, what a cruel god you are! There 
is none harder. In dealing out misfortunes, misery, and suffering 
to us men, no sense ofmercy holds you back; yet it was you who 
caused us to be bom. Sir, when I looked at you just now, the 
sweat broke out on me and my eyes were filled with tears. You 
had brought Odysseus to my mind; for I reckon that he too, in 
just such rags as you have on, must be a wanderer on the face of 
the earth, if indeed he is alive and can see the sunshine still. Ifnot, 
if he has gone below, then here’s a sigh for the good Odysseus, 
who set me over his cattle in the Cephallenian country when I 
was only a lad. And now those broad-browed herds of mine 
have multiplied beyond belief, like the ripening com. Short of 
a miracle, one couldn’t hope for more. But as things are, new 
masters order me to bring these catde in, just for themselves to 

310 ODYSSEY • BOOK XX [214- 

eat, caring no more for the prince’s presence in the house than 
they fear the baleful eye of god. Indeed the king has been away 
so long that nothing will content them now but to share out his 
goods. And what a quandary for me! I keep turning it over and 
over in my mind. Withason of his alive, it seems a poor way out 
for me to flit elsewhere and take myself and all my herds to 
foreign parts. Yet it’s harder still to stay here and stick to the 
miserablejob of tending cattle that have passed to other hands. 
I’d have run away long ago and found some great prince to pro¬ 
tect me, since things have come to such a pass that I can’t bear it; 
but I still have hopes of my unhappy master; I still think he may 
blow in some day and send these Suitors flying through the 

‘Herdsman,’ replied the quick-witted Odysseus, ‘you talk 
like a man of sense and goodwill. I have come to my own con¬ 
clusions and believe in your discretion. So here’s a piece of news 
for you which I vouch for with my solemn oath. I swear by 
Zeus before all other gods and by the board ofhospitality and by 
the good Odysseus’ hearth which I have reached, that before 
ever you leave Ithaca Odysseus will be back, and if you wish, 
you shall see with your own eyes the killing of these gallants 
who play the part of master here.’ 

‘ Sir,’ said the cowman in reply to this, ‘god grant that all you 
say may happen! You’d soon know my mettle and what I can 
do with my hands! ’ And Eumaeus chimed in with a prayer 
to all the gods that the wise Odysseus might see his home 

Meanwhile the Suitors whom they had been discussing were 
once more canvassing ways and means for Telemachus’ murder, 
when, lo and behold, a bird of omen appeared on their left, a 
soaring eagle with a terrified dove in his talons. Amphinomus 
rose at once, warned his friends that their plot to kill Tele¬ 
machus was doomed to miscarry, and proposed a move to 
dinner. His suggestion pleased them well enough and they ad¬ 
journed to Odysseus’ palace, where they threw down their 
cloaks on settles or chairs and proceeded to slaughter the big 


sheep, the fatted goats and porkers, and the heifer from the herd 
as well. They roasted and served the inner parts and mixed 
themselves wine in the bowls; the swineherd laid a cup for each 
man; the master-herdsman Philoetius served them with bread 
in dainty baskets; Melanthius went round with the wine; and 
they fell to on the good fare spread before them. 

Telemachus deliberately chose Odysseus a spot by the stone 
threshold, just within the great hall, where he placed a shabby 
stool for him and a small table. He helped him to the entrails, 
poured him some wine in a golden cup, and told him he could 
sit there and drink with the gentlemen. ‘ You can rely on me , 5 he 
added, ‘ to protect you from any insolence or blows from them. 
This is not an inn but the palace of Odysseus, which has come 
into my hands from his. And I ask you, gentlemen, to refrain 
from all provocation and violence, so that we may have no 
brawls or wrangling here . 5 

It amazed them that Telemachus should have the audacity to 
address them in this style. They all bit their lips, and the only 
comment came from Antinous, Eupeithes 5 son, who said: 

* Well, sirs, offensive as it is, I suppose we must put up with this 
pronouncement from Telemachus, in spite of the menacing 
tone he has adopted. Our plan, you see, was interfered with by 
the powers above. Otherwise, we should have arranged by now 
that these walls should hear that silvery voice no more . 5 

Antinous had his say. But Telemachus took not the slightest 
notice ofhim. 

Meanwhile, in the town, the beasts destined for sacrifice on 
this holy day were being led by stewards through the streets; 
and the long-haired Achaean townsfolk were congregating in 
the shady grove of Apollo the Archer. But the party in the 
palace, after the outer flesh had been roasted, withdrawn from 
the spits, and carved up, devoted themselves to the pleasures of 
the table. The serving-men gave Odysseus his fair share, which 
was as generous a helping as they got themselves. Telemachus, 
his son and heir, had given them orders to this effect. But Athene 
had no intention of letting the arrogant Suitors abandon their 

312 ODYSSEY • BOOK XX [ 285 - 

attitude of galling insolence: she wished the anguish to bite 
deeper yet into Odysseus’ royal heart. 

They had among them a man called Ctesippus, an unruly 
spirit who had come over from his home in Same, imbued with 
a simple faith in his fabulous wealth, to woo the wife of the long- 
absent king. He now insisted on making himself heard by his 
uproarious boon companions while he delivered himself of a 
jest . 4 My lords/ he said, our guest has already been served with 
an ample helping, as is only proper, for it would be neither good 
manners nor common decency to stint any friends of Tele- 
machus who come to the house. But look! I am going to make 
him a present on my own account, so that he may have some¬ 
thing to pass on to the bath attendant or one of the other servants 
in the royal palace/ 

With this, he laid his great hand on a cow’s hoof that was in 
the dish and hurled it at him. But Odysseus avoided it by simply 
ducking to one side, and the quiet smile he permitted himself as 
the missile struck the solid wall was sardonic indeed. Tele- 
machus pounced on Ctesippus at once: 4 It was well for you, 
Ctesippus, that you didn’t hit my guest, even if your miss was 
due to him. For if you had, I’d have run you through with my 
spear, and your father would have held a funeral here instead of 
a wedding. Understand, I won’t have this unseemly conduct 
from anyone in my house. I have learnt to use my brains by now 
and to know right from wrong: my childhood is a thing of the 
past. And although I must and do put up with the sight of your 
orgies, the slaughtered sheep, the wine and bread consumed, 
since I could hardly stop you all single-handed, I do ask you to 
refrain from these outrages, which are aimed against myself. 
But if you have reached the point where nothing short of my 
murder will content you, well, I should prefer it so and think 
it a far better thing to die than day after day to look on while dis¬ 
graceful things like this are done, my guests are bullied, and my 
maids are hauled about this lovely house for your foul pur¬ 

A long and complete silence followed Telemachus’ outburst. 




It was broken at last by Agelaus, son ofDamastor. 

‘My friends/ he remarked, ‘ when the proper thing has been 
said, captious objections would be out of place. Let there be no 
bullying of this stranger or of any of the royal servants. And 
now I have a suggestion to make to Telemachus and his mother. 
It is kindly meant and I hope that both will take it in good part. 
As long, Telemachus, as you and your mother could still cherish 
the hope that your wise father would one day come home, no 
one could blame you for waiting and holding your ground 
against the Suitors here. It seemed the better course, and would 
have proved so, had Odysseus really succeeded in finding his 
way back. But it is obvious by now that he is not destined to do 
so. I ask you, therefore, to seek your mother out and put the 
whole case before her. Let her marry the best and most generous 
man among us; and as a sequel you shall enjoy your inheritance 
at ease, with plenty to eat and drink, while she looks after her 
new husband’s house/ 

‘I swear to you, Agelaus/ the wise youth replied, ‘I swear by 
Zeus and by the sufferings of my father, dead far from Ithaca or 
wandering yet, that I have no wish whatever to postpone my 
mother’s marriage, that I actually urge her to make her choice 
and wed again, and that I have promised her a most generous 
settlement too. But to say the final word that would drive her 
from the house against her will goes clean against my conscience. 
God save me from that!’ 

Pallas Athene had fuddled the Suitors’ wits to such effect that 
they greeted Telemachus’ reply with peal after peal of helpless 
merriment. But before long their laughing faces took on a 
strained and alien look. Blood, so it seemed to them, was spat¬ 
tered on the food they ate. Tears filled their eyes, and maudlin 
sentiment their hearts. 

And now the voice of the noble Theoclymenus was heard. 

‘ Unhappy men, ’ he cried, ‘ what blight is this that has descended 
on you? Your heads, your faces, and your knees are veiled in 
night. There is a sound of mourning in the air; I see cheeks wet 
with tears. And look, the panels and the walls are splashed with 




blood. The porch is filled with ghosts. So is the court - ghosts 
hurrying down to darkness and to Hell. The sun is blotted out 
from heaven and a malignant mist has crept upon the world.* 

They laughed at him. They laughed delightedly, with one 
accord; and Polybus’ son, Eurymachus, got up and shouted: 

Our new friend’s wits have suffered on hisj oumey from abroad. 
Quick, you fellows, show him out and direct him to the market¬ 
place, since he finds it so dark in here/ 

‘Eurymachus/ the seer replied, T want no help from you to 
find my way. I have eyes and ears and two feet of my own, as 
well as a pretty sound head on my shoulders - quite enough to 
get me out of doors, where I am going now. For I see advancing 
on you all a catastrophe which you cannot hope to survive or 
shun, no, not a single one of you who spend your time insulting 
folk and running riot in Bung Odysseus’ house/ And with that 
he strode from the palace and sought out Peiraeus, who received 
him kindly. 

But the Suitors, after exchanging a few encouraging glances, 
began one and all to bait Telemachus by holding up his guests 
to ridicule. 

‘ Telemachus/ said one young blade, and his sally was typical 
of the rest, ‘ you really are most unfortunate in your hospitality. 
Look at this tramp now, whom you have dragged in here to 
entertain. All he wants is food and drink. He has never heard of a 
hard day’s work; in fact he is just a burden on the earth. And as 
if that weren’t enough, upjumps another and must play the seer. 
You’d much better take my advice and let us clap these friends 
of yours on board a galley bound for Sicily, where you could 
make a profit on the deal/ 

But this and all their other jibes provoked Telemachus to no 
rejoinder. He kept his mouth shut and his eyes fixed on his 
father, always watching for the moment when Odysseus should 
be ready to attack the graceless crew. As for Penelope, that pru¬ 
dent lady had placed her best chair for herself at a point of van¬ 
tage from which she was able to hear what was said by everyone 
in the hall. 


It was certainly a rich and savoury dinner that they had man¬ 
aged, for all their merriment, to prepare, since they had 
slaughtered freely. But as for their supper, nothing less palatable 
could be imagined than the fare which a goddess and a strong 
man were soon to spread before them, since the first step in 
villainy had been theirs. 



Athene, goddess of the flashing eyes, now prompted that wise 
lady, Penelope, to confront the Suitors in the palace with the 
bow and the great iron axes that were to test their skill and lead 
to their destruction. She descended the high staircase from her 
own apartments and with her shapely hand picked up a well- 
made copper key which had an ivory handle, then made her 
way with her ladies to a store-room in a distant comer of the 
house where the King’s treasure was kept. Here, with his stocks 
of bronze, of gold, and of wrought iron, lay the incurved bow 
and quiver full of deadly arrows which had been given to him 
by his friend Iphitus, of heroic fame, when they met in Lace¬ 
daemon. The two came across each other at Ortilochus’ house 
in Messene. Odysseus had come over to recover a public debt, 
some Messenians having lifted three hundred sheep from Ithaca, 
shepherds and all, and carried them offin their galleys. This was 
the business that brought Odysseus so far afield, though a mere 
lad at the time. His father and the other elders had entrusted him 
with the mission. Iphitus, for his part, had come in search of a 
dozen mares he had lost, with the sturdy little mules that they 
had foaled. In the sequel these horses led to his death in a fatal en¬ 
counter with Heracles, the lion-hearted Child of Zeus and hero 
of the mighty Labours. For Heracles killed him in his own 
house, though he was Iphitus’ host, caring no more in that cruel 
heart of his for the vengeful eye of god than for the hospitality 
he had given him - feasted the man first, then killed him, took 
the mares himself, and put them in his own stables. 

It was on his quest for these animals that Iphitus met Odysseus 
and gave him the bow, which in years gone by the great Eury- 
tus, his father, had carried and at his death bequeathed him in his 
palace. In return, Odysseus gave Iphitus a sharp sword and a 




stout spear as earnest of a friendship that he hoped to cherish. 
But before the two could meet as host and guest, the Son of 
Zeus had killed the heroic Iphitus, the giver of the bow. This 
bow Odyseus never took on board with him when he sailed to 
the wars but laid it up at home in memory of a treasured friend, 
though he did use it on his own estate. 

The Queen reached the store-room and mounted the oaken 
threshold - the work of some carpenter ofbygone days, whose 
adze had smoothed it well and trued it to the line, and whose 
hands had fixed the doorposts too in their sockets and hung the 
polished doors upon them. She quickly undid the thong at¬ 
tached to the door-knob, passed the key through the hole, and 
with a well-aimed thrust shot back the bolt. The key did its 
work. With a groan like the roar of a bull at grass in a meadow, 
the doors flew open before her, and she stepped onto the raised 
boarding of the floor. Here stood the chests where clothing was 
laid by in scented herbs. But Penelope, rising on tiptoe, fetched 
the bow down from its peg in the shining case that covered it. 
And there she sat down with the case on her knees and burst into 
sobs as she drew out her husband’s bow. But when the abun¬ 
dance ofher tears had brought its own relief, she set out for the 
hall to face the proud lords who were courting her, carrying the 
bow and the quiver with its deadly load of arrows in her arms, 
while the women followed with a box full of the iron and 
bronze implements that their master had employed for games of 
skill. Then, veiling her cheeks with a fold of her bright head¬ 
dress, the noble lady took her stand by a pillar of the massive 
roof and without further ado issued her challenge to the Suitors: 

‘ Listen, my lords. You have fastened on this house, in the long 
absence of its master, as the scene of your perpetual feasts, and 
you could offer no better pretext for your conduct than your 
wish to win my hand in marriage. That being the prize, come 
forward now, my gallant lords; for I challenge you to try your 
skill on the great bow of King Odysseus. And whichever man 
among you proves the handiest at stringing the bow and shoots 
an arrow through every one of these twelve axes, with that man 

318 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXI [ 77 - 

I will go, bidding goodbye to this house which welcomed me 
as a bride, this lovely house so full of all good things, this home 
that even in my dreams I never shall forget/ 

She then turned to the good swineherd Eumaeus and told 
him to hand over the bow and the iron tools to the Suitors. As he 
took them from her and set them down, Eumaeus gave way to 
tears, while from the cowman beyond him there also came a 
sob when he saw his master’s bow. Antinous fell foul of them at 
once. ‘The stupid yokels,’ he exclaimed, ‘who can’t see further 
than their noses! You miserable pair, what are you standing 
there for, snivelling and upsetting your mistress, as though the 
loss ofher beloved husband weren’t trouble enough? Sit down 
and eat your food in silence; or else clear out ofhere and cry out¬ 
side. You can leave the bow where it is, to settle this matter be¬ 
tween us, as it certainly will. For I don’t think that pretty weapon 
will prove easy to string! There’s not a man in this whole com¬ 
pany as good as Odysseus was. I saw him myself; and I have a 
good memory, though I was only a child at the time.’ 

In spite of what he said, Antinous nursed a secret hope that he 
himself might string the bow and shoot through all the marks, 
though actually, when it came to shooting, he was to be the first 
to feel an arrow from the hands of the peerless Odysseus, whom 
he had just been insulting, and encouraging all his friends to 
insult, as he sat in the man’s own house. 

But the young prince Telemachus had a word to say too . 4 I’m 
afraid I must be a bom fool!’ he laughingly exclaimed. ‘My 
dear mother, wise as she is, says she will leave this house to marry 
again, and here I am, smiling and chuckling to myself like an 
idiot. Well, gentlemen all, come forward. Here is your prize - a 
lady whose like you will not find today in all Achaea, no, notin 
sacred Pylos, nor in Argos, nor Mycene, nor in Ithaca itself, nor 
on the dark mainland. But you know this well enough. What 
need for me to sing my mother’s praises? So come along! No 
false excuses or delays! Make up your minds to face the thing, 
and let us see you string it. Why, I shouldn’t mind trying my¬ 
self. And if I string the bow and shoot an arrow through the 




axes, my mother can say goodbye to this house and go off with 
another man, for all I care, leaving me here, satisfied that at last I 
am equal to handling my father’s formidable toys.’ 

As he finished, Telemachus leapt from his seat, thrust the 
purple cloak off his shoulders and removed his sword. He pro¬ 
ceeded to dig a single long trench for all the axes; then he planted 
them in it, checked their alignment and stamped down the earth 
around them. The men watching him could not help admiring 
the neat way in which he set them up though he had never seen 
it done before. Then he took his stance on the threshold and ad¬ 
dressed himself to the bow. Three times he made it quiver in his 
efforts to bend it, but every time he gave the struggle up, though 
not the hope that he might still succeed in drawing on the string 
and shooting through the iron marks. And the fourth time he 
put such pressure on the bow that he might well have strung it 
yet, if Odysseus had not put an end to his attempts with a shake 
of the head. 

‘Ah well,’ the young prince sighed, ‘I suppose I shall always 
be a craven and a weakling. Or perhaps I’m too young, not sure 
enough yet of my own strength to take on anyone who may 
care to pick a quarrel with me. Well, sirs, it is now up to you, 
who are stronger men than I, to try the bow and see who comes 
off best.’ 

With this he put the bow down on the ground, propping the 
tip against the polished woodwork of the door with the arrow 
resting close beside it. Then he resumed his seat. Antinous, in his 
persuasive way, proposed that they should all take their turn, 
working from left to right, the way the wine went round. This 
was agreed, with the result that the first man to get up was 
Leodes son of Oenops, who used to officiate at their sacrifices 
and always sat by the great wine-bowl in the far comer. Unlike 
the rest, he abhorred violence, and their conduct filled him with 
indignation. Rising now to take the first turn, he picked up the 
bow and arrow, took his stand on the threshold and addressed 
himself to the bow. But long before he could string it, the effort 
of bending it tired out his delicate, unhardened hands. 




He turned to the Suitors. ‘My friends/ he said, T shall never 
string it; let the next man try. Believe me, this bow will break 
the heart and be the death of many a champion here. And a good 
thing too: far better to die than to live on and miss the prize that 
lures us all here every day and keeps us always hoping. There 
are some of you at this moment who still think they may have 
their desire and win Queen Penelope’s hand. Let them try the 
bow and see! They’ll soon transfer their love and lay their gifts 
at the feet of some other Achaean beauty. And so Penelope will 
be able to marry the man who offers most and is her destined 

Leodes relinquished the bow, propping the tip against the 
polished woodwork of the door with the arrow leaning close 
beside it; and so resumed his seat. But Antinous took him to task 
with asperity: ‘ Leodes! What a preposterous speech! It’s an out¬ 
rage, which I strongly resent, to suggest that this bow will ‘ ‘ break 
the hearts and be the death of the best men here”-just because 
you cannot string it yourself. Which is really your mother’s 
fault - you were never bom to be a bowman. However, there 
are others in this noble company who will string it soon enough. ’ 
Then he turned to Melanthius the goatherd. ‘Look sharp, Mel- 
anthius,’ he ordered, ‘and make a fire in the hall, draw up a big 
stool with a fleece on it, and bring a large round of tallow from 
the stores, so that we young men may thaw and grease the bow 
before we try it and settle the match.’ 

Melanthius quickly made up the fire, which was still glowing, 
drew up a stool, on which he spread a rug, and fetched a large 
round of tallow from the store. The young men greased the 
bow with hot tallow and did their best. But they failed to string 
it all the same; in fact they were not nearly strong enough. 
Antinous, however, and Prince Eurymachus held off for the 
time being - and they were the leaders of the party and by far 
the best men it could boast. 

Meanwhile the two king’s men, the cowman and the swine¬ 
herd, had joined forces and slipped out of the house. Odysseus 
himself followed them, and when they had passed through the 




door and the courtyard, he called out, * Cowman! And you 
there, the swineherd! 5 and then proceeded tactfully to sound 
them: s Shall I out with it, or shall I hold my tongue? No, I feel I 
must speak. If it came to fighting for Odysseus, what line would 
you men take - supposing he were to blow in from somewhere, 
suddenly, just like that? Would you be on the Suitors 5 side or 
his? Tell me which way your real feelings lie. 5 

T wish to god, 5 the cowman said, ‘some power would only 
bring him home. You’d soon know my mettle and what I can 
do with my hands. 5 And Eumaeus chimed in with a prayer to all 
the gods that their wise master might see his home again. 

Odysseus, thus assured of their genuine feelings, took the next 
step.‘Well, here I am! 5 he said. ‘ Yes, I myself, home again in my 
own country after nineteen years of suffering. I realize that you 
are the only two of all my men who will be glad to see me back, 
for I have not heard a single one of the others put up a prayer for 
my return. So I’m going to tell you two exactly what I am pre¬ 
pared to do for you in the future. If the powers above let me 
suppress this gang ofbullies, Fll get you each a wife, make you a 
grant, and build you houses near to mine; and from that day I 
shall regard you both as Telemachus 5 friends and brothers. I have 
said I am Odysseus - let me give you proof positive of the fact, 
so that you may know me for certain and be convinced in your 
hearts. Look at this scar, where I was struck by a boar’s tusk 
when I went to Parnassus with Autolycus 5 sons. 5 

As he spoke, he drew his rags aside and exposed the long scar. 
The two men looked, and examined it carefully. Then they 
burst into tears, flung their arms round Odysseus’ neck, and 
kissed him fondly on the head and shoulders. Odysseus, equally 
moved, kissed their heads and hands; and the tender scene might 
well have been prolonged till sunset, had Odysseus not decided 
to bring it to an end. 1 Stop crying, 5 he said, ‘ or someone coming 
from the house may notice us and tell the people indoors. Go in 
now, one after the other, not in company. I shall go first; and 
you must follow. And here’s your cue. The others, I mean that 
gang of Suitors, will refuse to let me have the bow and quiver. 




When that happens, my good Eumaeus, bring the bow down 
the hall and put it in my hands. Also, tell the women to lock that 
tight-fitting door which leads to their rooms, and say that if 
they hear groans or any other noise from the men's part of the 
house, they are not to stir from their quarters but to stay quietly 
where they are and get on with their work. Thejob of bolting 
and roping the courtyard gate, I give to you, my good Philoe- 
tius. Fasten it tight!' 

When he had given them these instructions Odysseus went 
back into the palace and sat down once more on his stool. The 
two royal servants followed him in. 

By now the bow had come into the hands of Eurymachus, 
who was shifting it about in the firelight to warm it. But he 
failed to string it for all that, and the man's proud heart rebelled. 
‘Damnation take the thing!' he cried in his rage. ‘ I feel this bit¬ 
terly, not for myself alone but for us all. The miscarriage of our 
wedding plans I certainly regret, but not so very much - there 
are plenty of women left in our island here and in the other 
towns. What does grieve me is the thought that our failure with 
his bow proves us such weaklings compared with the godlike 
Odysseus. The disgrace will stick to our names for ever.' 

But Antinous, plausible as always, would have none of this. 
‘Eurymachus,’ he said, ‘that is quite the wrong view to take; 
you know it yourself. Today is a public holiday in honour of 
the Archer god. Is that a time for bending bows? Put the thing 
down and forget it. And why not leave the axes standing where 
they are? I'm sure nobody's going to break into the royal palace 
and steal them. Come, let the wine-steward go round and pour 
a little in each cup. We'll make our offerings and give archery a 
rest. And tell the goatherd Melanthius in the morning to bring 
in the very best goats from all his flocks, so that we can sacrifice 
to the great Archer, Apollo, and then try the bow and see who 

This was very much to their liking. Accordingly their squires 
came and sprinkled their hands with water, while the lads filled 
the mixing bowls to the brim with drink, and then, after pour- 




ing a little first in each man’s cup, they served them all with 
wine. When they had made their libations and satisfied their 
thirst, the crafty Odysseus came out with a seemingly guileless 

‘Hear me,’ he said, ‘you gentlemen that are courting our 
famous queen. I feel moved to beg a favour of you all, and in 
particular ofEurymachus, and Prince Antinous, who so wisely 
proposed that you should let the bow be for the moment and 
leave the issue to heaven, confident that tomorrow the Archer 
god will make his favourite win. Now what I ask is that you 
should let me have the bow, so that you may see me test the 
strength of my hands and find out whether there’s any power 
left in these limbs that were once so supple, or whether a roving 
and comfortless life has robbed me of it all by now.’ 

His request annoyed them beyond measure, for they really 
feared that he might string the bow; and Antinous took him up 
sharply: e A pest on you, sir! When will you leam sense? Aren’t 
you content to dine in peace with your betters, to get your share 
of every dish and to listen to our talk, which no other visitor or 
tramp is privileged to hear? Your trouble is this mellow wine, 
which always does for a man when he gulps it down instead of 
drinking in moderation. Remember Eurytion the Centaur! It 
was the wine that got at his wits, in King Peirithous’ house, 
when he was visiting the Lapithae. Fuddled with drink, what 
must he do but run amuck in the palace? His hosts leapt up in 
anger, dragged him to the porch, and threw him out of doors; 
but not before they had sliced his ears and nose off with a knife. 
Away went the maddened brute, with his woes heavy on his 
silly soul; and so the feud started between Centaurs and men. 
But he was the first to suffer, and he brought his troubles on him¬ 
self by getting drunk. And you, sir, I warn you, will come to 
grief in much the same way, if you string this bow. You will be 
given no quarter in our part of the country, but we’ll pack you 
off in a black ship to King Echetus, the Ogre; and nothing will 
get you out of his clutches! So drink in peace, and don t attempt 
to compete with men younger than yourself.’ 




But here the prudent Penelope intervened: ‘Antinous, it 
is neither good manners nor common decency to show such 
meanness to people who come to this house as Telemachus , 
guests. Do you imagine that if this stranger has enough faith in 
his own strength to bend the great bow of Odysseus he is going 
to carry me home with him and make me his wife? I don’t be¬ 
lieve he ever thought of such a thing himself. So do not let that 
spoil anyone’s dinner here. The idea is preposterous! ’ 

Eurymachus now took a part in the argument: ‘Our wise 
Queen Penelope must realize that we are not afraid that this man 
will win her hand. That is out of the question. What we shrink 
from is the name that men and women will give us. We don’t 
want the common folk to be saying things like this: “A poor 
lot, these; not up to the fine gentleman whose wife they want to 
marry! They can’t string his bow! But in comes some casual 
tramp, strings the bow with the greatest ease, and shoots through 
all the marks! ” That is the sort of thing they will say; and our 
reputation might suffer.’ 

‘Eurymachus,’ Penelope retorted,‘no one who cynically sup¬ 
ports himself at his prince’s expense can possibly stand well with 
the people. But why take this affair as a reflection on yourselves? 
Our guest here is a very big and well-built man, who can also 
claim to be of noble birth. So give him the bow now and let us 
see what happens. I promise - and these are no idle words - that 
if by Apollo’s favour he succeeds in stringing it I shall fit him out 
in a fine new coat and tunic, I shall give him a sharp javelin to 
keep off dogs and men, and a two-edged sword, as well as 
sandals for his feet, and I shall see him safe wherever he wants 
to go.’ 

‘About that bow, mother-’ Telemachus interposed, ‘ there is 
not a man in the whole country who has a better right than I to 
give it or refuse it as I like. And that applies to every chieftain 
here in rugged Ithaca or in the isles off Elis where the horses 
graze. There is not one ofthem who could override my decision, 
even if I made up my mind to give this bow to my guest once 
and for all and let him take it away. So go to your quarters now 




and attend to your own work, the loom and the spindle, and see 
that the servants get on with theirs. The bow is the men's con¬ 
cern, and mine above all; for I am master in this house.' 

Penelope was taken aback and retired to her own apartments 
digesting the wisdom of her son's rebuke. Attended by her 
maids she went upstairs to her bedroom, where she gave way to 
tears for Odysseus, her beloved husband, till bright-eyed Athene 
closed her eyes in grateful sleep. 

Meanwhile the worthy swineherd had picked up the curved 
bow and was taking it along, when protests rang out from all 
the Suitors in the hall. He could hear one of the young bloods 
yelling at him: ‘Where are you taking that bow, wretched 
swineherd and vagabond? If we could have our way, the very 
dogs you've bred would tear you to pieces, out there among 
your pigs where no one goes.’ 

The torrent of abuse brought Eumaeus to a standstill, and 
cowed by the angry crowd in the hall he dropped the bow. But 
now Telemachus' voice came loud and menacing from the 
other side. ‘Forward there with the bow, old fellow! You'll 
soon find that you can't obey us all. Take care I don't chase you 
up the fields with a shower of stones. I may be young, but I’m a 
brawnier man than you. And if only I had the same advantage 
in muscle over all the hangers-on in the place, I'd soon be throw¬ 
ing them out on their ears from this house of mine where they 
hatch their ugly plots.’ 

The Suitors greeted this effusion with roars of merry 
laughter, which took the edge off their resentment against Tele¬ 
machus. The swineherd picked up the bow, carried it down the 
hall to Odysseus and put it in his able hands. He then called the 
nurse Eurycleia from her quarters and told her what to do. 
‘Eurycleia,’ he said, ‘you have a wise head on your shoulders. 
Telemachus wants you to lock that close-fitting door to the 
women's rooms. And if they hear groans or any other noise 
from the men’s part of the house, they are not to stir from their 
quarters, but must stay quietly where they are and get on with 
their work.' 


32 6 


Too awestruck to argue, Eurycleia went and locked the do< 
leading out of the great hall. At the same time Philoetius slippt 
quietly out and barred the door leading into the courtyan 
which he made fast with a ship’s hawser of papyrus that w; 
lying under the colonnade. This done, he went in and sat dow 
on the stool he had left, with his eyes fixed on Odysseus. 

Odysseus now had the bow in his hands and was twisting : 
about, testing it this way and that, for fear that the worms migfc 
have eaten into the horn in the long absence of its owner. Th 
Suitors glanced at one another and gave vent to some typica 
comments: ‘Ha! Quite the expert, with a critic’s eye for bows 
No doubt he collects them at home or wants to start a factory 
judging by the way he twists it about, just as though he hac 
learnt something useful in his life on the road! ’ And this frorx 
another of the young gallants: * Little good may he get from it - 
as little as his chance of ever stringing the bow! ’ 

Amid all their banter, the cool-headed Odysseus had poised 
the great bow and given it a final inspection. And now, as easily 
as a musician who knows his lyre strings the cord on a new peg 
after looping the twisted sheep-gut at both ends, he strung the 
great bow without effort or haste and with his right hand 
proved the string, which gave a lovely sound in answer like a 
swallow’s note. The Suitors were confounded. The colour 
faded from their cheeks; while to mark the signal moment there 
came a thunderclap from Zeus, and Odysseus’ long-suffering 
heart leapt up for joy at this sign of favour from the Son of 
Cronos of the crooked ways. 

One arrow lay exposed on the table beside him, the rest, 
which the Achaean lords were soon to feel, being still inside 
their hollow quiver. He picked up this shaft, set it against the 
bridge of the bow, drew back the grooved end and the string 
together, all without rising from his stool, and aiming straight 
ahead he shot. Not a single axe did he miss. From the first haft, 
right through them all and out at the last, the arrow sped with 
its burden of bronze. Odysseus turned to his son. ‘ Telemachus,’ 
he said, the stranger sitting in your hall has not disgraced you. I 

-434] THE GREAT BOW 3^7 

scored no miss, nor made hard work of stringing the bow. My 
powers are unimpaired, and these gentlemen were mistaken 
when they scornfully rated them so low. But the time has come 
now to get their supper ready, while it is light, and after that to 
pass on to the further pleasures of music and dancing, without 
which no banquet is complete/ 

As he finished, Odysseus gave a nod. Whereupon his son and 
heir, Prince Telemachus, slung on his sharp-edged sword and 
gripping his spear took his stand by the chair at his father’s side, 
armed with resplendent bronze. 



Shedding his rags, the indomitable Odysseus leapt onto the 
great threshold with his bow and his full quiver, and poured 
out the winged arrows at his feet. 

, That match is played and won!’ he shouted to the Suitors 
Now for another target! No man has hit it yet; but with 
Apollo s help 111 try. And with that he levelled a deadly shaft 
straight at Antinous. 3 

Antinous had just reached for his golden cup to take a draught 
of wme, and the rich, two-handled beaker was balanced in his 
hands. No thought of bloodshed had entered his head. For who 
could guess therein thatfestive company, that one man, how¬ 
ever powerful he might be, would bring calamity and death to 
him against such odds? Yet Odysseus shot his bolt and struck 
him m the throat. The point passed clean through the soft flesh 
of his neck. Dropping the cup as he was hit, he lurched over to 
one side. His life-blood gushed from his nostrils in a turbid jet 
His foot lashed out and kicked the table from him; the food was 

scattered on the ground, and his bread and meat were smeared 
with gore. 

When the Suitors saw the man collapse, there was an angry 
outcry in the hall. They sprang from their chairs and rushed dis¬ 
traught about the room, searching the solid walls on every side 
But not a shield or sturdy spear did they see to lay their hands on.' 
They rounded in fury on Odysseus: ‘Stranger, men make a 
angerous target; you have played your last match. Now you 
shall surely die. You have killed the greatest nobleman in Ithaca: 
the vultures of Ithaca shall eat you.’ 

, ■j'f'hfX ^ a k° urec l each and all under the delusion that he had 
killed the man by accident. It had not dawned upon the fools 
that every one of them was marked for slaughter too. 


The unconquerable Odysseus looked down on them with a 
scowl. 4 You curs! ’ he cried. 4 You never thought to see me back 
from Troy. So you ate me out of house and home; you raped 
my maids; you wooed my wife on the sly though I was alive~ 
with no more fear of the gods in heaven than of the human 
vengeance that might come. I tell you, one and all, your doom 
is sealed/ 

Fear drained the colour from their cheeks and each man 
peered round to find some sanctuary from sudden death. Eury- 
machus alone was able to reply: 4 If Odysseus oflthaca is home 
and you are the man, then what you say of all the villainous 
things we have done, here in your house and on your lands, is 
justified. But the man who was responsible for all lies dead al¬ 
ready, Antinous there, the prime mover in these misdeeds, in¬ 
spired not so much by any wish or need to marry as by a very 
different aim, in which the powers above have thwarted him. 
And that was to make himself king of the fair city and land of 
Ithaca, after setting a trap for your son and putting him to death. 
But he has got his deserts now and been killed. So spare us, who 
are your own people. And afterwards we will make amends to 
you by a public levy for all the food and drink that has been 
consumed in your house. We will each bring a contribution to 
the value of twenty oxen, and repay you in bronze and gold, till 
you relent. Meanwhile, there is every excuse for your anger/ 

Odysseus glared at him and said: ‘Eurymachus, not if you 
made over your whole estates to me, with all you stand pos¬ 
sessed of or could raise elsewhere, would I keep my hands from 
killing till you gallants had paid for all your crimes. The choice 
now lies before you, either to face me and fight, or else to run 
and see if you can save your skins, though I fancy some of you 
may fail to get away alive/ 

When they heard this, their hearts quaked and their knees 
shook underneath them. But once again Eurymachus spoke up. 

4 My friends/ he said, ‘there’s no quarter coming from those 
ruthless hands. He has got the strong bow and the quiver and 

*n 1 . r 1 1 1 1 1 n .n •» 1 1 .-,1 1 

3 3 0 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXII [73 

make the best of it and fight! Out with your swords; hold u 
the tables to keep off his murderous shots, and advance on hi n 
in a body. Who knows but we may oust him from the threshob 
and the door, and sally through the town, where there wouh 
quickly be a hue and cry? He’d soon find out that his last bo 1 
was shot!’ 

As he spoke, he drew his sharp and two-edged sword oi 
bronze, and leapt at Odysseus with a terrible shout. But at the 
same moment the brave Odysseus let an arrow fly, which s truck 
him by the nipple on his breast with such force that it pierced his 
liver. The sword dropped from his hand. Lurching across the 
table, he crumpled up and tumbled with it, hurling the food and 
wine-cup to the floor. In agony he dashed his forehead on the 
ground; his feet lashed out and overthrew the chair, and the fog 
of death descended on his eyes. 

Amphinomus was the next to attack the illustrious Odysseus, 
making straight at him, sword in hand, to force him somehow 
from the door. But before he could close, Telemachus had 
smitten him from behind, midway between the shoulders, with 
a spear-cast that transfixed his breast. He fell with a crash and 
struck the ground full with his forehead. Telemachus leapt aside, 
leaving the long spear planted in Amphinomus’ body, for he 
was much afraid that one of the enemy might dash in and strike 
iim with a sword as he pulled at the long shaft or stooped above 
;he corpse. So he ran off quickly to rejoin Odysseus and whis- 
>ered anxiously in his ear: ‘Listen, father, I am going to fetch 
r ou a shield now and a couple of spears and a bronze helmet to 
it round your temples. I shall equip myself too when I come 
ack, and do the same for the swineherd and the drover. It 
/ould improve our chances to have armour on/ 

‘Run,’ said the imperturbable Odysseus, ‘and bring the arms 
diile I have arrows left for my defence, or they may drive me 
om the doorway while I stand alone/ 

Telemachus took his father’s advice and hurried off* to the 
ore-room where they kept their weapons of war. There he 
eked out four shields, eight spears, and four bronze helmets 


topped withhorsehairplumes,andcarrymg these made all haste 

to his father s side, where he at once proceeded to arm himself 
The two servants equipped themselves in the same way and 
took their stand by Odysseus, their wise, resourceful leader. 

As long as he had arrows to fight with, Odysseus kept picking 
offthe Suitors one by one in the hall till the dead lay in piles. But 
the time came when the arrows failed the archer. So he propped 
his bow between one of the door-posts of the great hall and the 
burnished side of the porch, hung a shield of fourfold hide on 
his shoulder, put a strong helmet on his sturdy head, with the 
horsehair plume nodding defiantly above, and finall y picked up 
two stout bronze-pointed spears. 

Let into the solid masonry of the wall there was a raised 
postern, guarded by closely-fitting doors. Here a way led, past 
the threshold of the great hall at its upper level, into an outside 
alley. Odysseus told the swineherd to stand on guard by this 
postern, to which there was only one approach. But Agelaus too 
had a word to say about this. ‘Friends,’ he called to them all, 

. can . t some body climb to the postern and tell the people what 
is going on? We should have help in a trice; and our friend here 
would soon find he’d shot his last bolt! ’ 

Impossible, my lord Agelaus,’ answered the goatherd Mel- 
anthius. ‘ The big door into the courtyard is terribly near, and the 
mouth of the alley is an awkward place, where one stout fellow 
could keep us all back single-handed. But let me fetch you 
armour to put on from the arsenal. For I have an idea that the 
arms are in the house and that Odysseus and the prince have not 
hidden them far afield.’ 

So Melanthius the goatherd went up by devious ways through 
the palace to the store-room of Odysseus, where he helped him¬ 
self to a dozen shields and spears and an equal number ofbronze 
helmets topped with horsehair plumes. He set out with these 
and had soon handed them over to the Suitors. When Odysseus 
saw them putting armour on and brandishing great spears in their 
hands, his knees quaked and his heart failed him. The affair, he 
felt, was taking a disastrous turn. He swung round to his son and 

332 ODYSSEY * BOOK XXII [ 151 - 

said in dismay: ‘ Telemachus, I am certain that one of the women 
here is responsible for this warlike display against us. Or else it’s 
Melanthius* work/ 

‘ Father/Telemachus wisely confessed, ‘ the mistake was mine, 
and no one else is to blame. I left the strong door of the store¬ 
room open, and they kept a sharper look out than we did. Quick, 
my good Eumaeus, go and shut the arsenal door. See too 
whether it’s one of the women who has done the mischief, or 
Melanthius, Dolius* brat, as I suspect/ 

As they were talking, Melanthius the goatherd set out once 
more to fetch another fine load of armour from the store-room. 
But the worthy swineherd spied him and at once said to Odys¬ 
seus, who was close at hand: ‘My royal master, the very 
scoundrel we suspected is off to the armoury again. What are 
your orders? If I can overpower him, shall I kill him or shall I 
bring him to you here to pay for all his misdeeds in your house? * 

To which Odysseus replied: ‘ Telemachus andlwill keep these 
lovelorn gentlemen pent up within the four walls of this hall, 
however hard they fight. You two are to bind Melanthius , 
hands and feet behind his back and throw him into the armoury, 
locking the door when you have done. Tie a rope round his 
body and hoist him up a pillar to the roof, so that he may hang 
alive in torment for a while/ 

Only too ready to obey, they set out at once for the arsenal. 
Melanthius was already there but did not see them come, as he 
was hunting round for arms in a comer of the room. The two 
men stood by the doorposts on either side and waited, till the 
goatherd came out across the threshold with a fine helmet in one 
hand and the other burdened with a large and ancient shield 
spotted with mildew, which had been borne by the lord 
Laertes as a young soldier, but had lain by for some time with 
the seams of its straps rotted. The two men pounced upon him, 
dragged him in by the hair and threw the unhappy wretch on 
the floor, where they tied his hands and feet together with biting 
knots, relentlessly forcing the limbs till they met behind him, as 
their royal master had ordained. Finally they made a rope fast 


round his body and hauled him aloft up a pillar till he nearly 
touched the roof. Then Eumaeus the swineherd mocked at his 

‘A long, long watch for you, Melanthius, lying all night on 
the downy bed that you deserve. Nor will the young Dawn 
catch you napping as she comes up in gold from Ocean’s Stream, 
about the time when you drive in the goats for the Suitors’ table 
in the palace.’ And there Melanthius was left, racked in the grip 
of those deadly cords, while the pair resumed their armour, 
closed the polished door, and returned to Odysseus, their wise 
and inscrutable master. 

It was at this point, when the two parties were breathing de¬ 
fiance at each other, the four on the threshold facing the large 
and formidable body in the hall, that Zeus’ Daughter Athene 
assumed Mentor’s voice and appearance to visit the scene. 
Odysseus hailed her withjoy. ‘To the rescue, Mentor! ’ he cried. 
‘Remember your old friend and the good turns I’ve done you 
in the past. Why, you and I were boys together! ’ 

He had a shrewd idea, when he said this, that he was address¬ 
ing the warrior goddess, whose arrival, meanwhile, had been 
greeted on the Suitors’ part by a chorus of abuse. Out of this 
tumult came the menacing voice of Agelaus, son ofDamastor. 
‘Mentor,’ he cried, ‘don’t let Odysseus talk you round and 
make you fight for him against the Suitors. I’ll tell youjust how 
we intend to finish this affair. When we put these men to death - 
and we mean to kill both father and son - you too shall join them 
and shall die for what you now propose to do in this house. With 
your own head you shall pay the price. And when our swords 
have disposed ofyou and your friends, we shall throw in all you 
possess, indoors or out, with Odysseus’ estate. We shan’t let son 
or daughter of yours live in your house, and your good wife 
won’t dare to show herself in the streets of Ithaca.’ 

This outburst served only to exasperate Athene, who rounded 
on Odysseus and rated him sharply: ‘Where is your spirit, 
Odysseus? Where is your prowess gone? You are not the man 
you were when for nine relentless years you fought the Trojans 



[ 228 - 

for the white arms of highborn Helen, killing your man in 
battle time and time again, and planning the stratagem that cap¬ 
tured Priam’s spacious town. You are home now among your 
own possessions. Why then deplore your lack of courage to 
confront that crew? Come, my old friend, stand by my side and 
watch a deed of arms, to learn how Mentor son of Alcimus 
repays past kindness in the thick of battle.’ 

In spite of this, Athene did not yet throw all her powers in, to 
give him victory, but continued to put the strength and courage 
of both Odysseus and his noble son on trial, while she herself 
withdrew, taking the shape of a swallow and darting aloft to 
perch on the smoky main beam of the hall. 

An attempt to rally the Suitors was now made by six of their 
number - Agelaus son of Damastor, Eurynomus, Amphime- 
don, Demoptolemus, Peisander son ofPolyctor, and the able 
Polybus - who stood out as the bravest among those left alive to 
fight for their existence, many having already succumbed to the 
arrows that had hailed on them from the bow. Agelaus took 
command and called out to the survivors: ‘Comrades, the in¬ 
vincible Odysseus shows signs of weakening at last! See how 
Mentor deserted him after his idle boast, and the four of them 
are left alone in the entrance. Don’t cast your long spears all to¬ 
gether, but let us six throw first on the off chance of hitting 
Odysseus and covering ourselves with glory. The others won’t 
count, once he has fallen.’ 

The six took their cue from him and cast with all their might. 
But Athene made the whole discharge miscarry. One man hit 
the doorpost of the great hall, one the solid door, while a third 
landed his six foot of ash and heavy bronze against the wall. The 
party on the threshold, unscathed by this volley from the 
Suitors, now heard the indomitable Odysseus give his orders: 
Friends, it is my turn now to give the word, and ours to shoot. 
Cast into the thick of that gang, who are adding to their other 
crimes by this attempt to butcher us/ 

They all took careful aim and four sharp lances left their 
hands, with the result that Odysseus killed Demoptolemus, and 


riachus, Euryades, while Elatus fell to the swineherd, and 
nder to the man who kept the cows. Four men had bitten 
ust together. The Suitors retreated to the far corner of the 
while Odysseus' party dashed in and withdrew their 
>ons from the dead. 

ice more the Suitors fiercely hurled their spears; but for the 
, part in vain - Athene saw to that. One hit the doorpost of 
jreat hall, another the solid door, while a third struck the 
with the massive bronze point of his ashen pole. But Am- 
ledon did succeed in catching Telemachus on the wrist - a 
ring blow, the bronze just grazed the skin. And a long lance 
i Ctesippus, flying over Eumaeus’ shield, scratched his 
ilder before it passed beyond and fell to the ground. Again 
'sseus, cool and collected, discharged a volley with his men 
the thick of the enemy. This time Eurydamas fell to the 
:er of Cities, Telemachus killed Amphimedon, the swine- 
1 accounted for Polybus, and finally the cowman struck 
sippus in the breast and exulted over his foe: ‘You foul- 
.ithed son of a braggart, I'll teach you to control your fatuous 
jue and not to talk so big, but to leave judgement to the 
s, who are far wiser than you. Take that in return for the 
/s hoof you gave King Odysseus when he begged in the 
And so the humble drover had his triumph, 
text, Odysseus rushed in and wounded Agelaus with his 
at spear, while Telemachus struck Euenor's son Leiocritus 
it in the flank with a lance, driving the point clean through 
man, who fell face down and struck the ground full with his 
riiead. And now, high in the roof above their heads, Athene 
ed her deadly aegis. The Suitors were scared out of their 
ses. They scattered through the hall like a herd of cattle 
om the dancing gadfly has attacked and stampeded, in the 
ing-time when the long days come in. But the others 
Doped down on them, as vultures from the hills, with curving 
ws and crooked beak, swoop down upon the smaller birds, 
lo though they shun the upper air and scour the ground find 
help there and no escape, for the vultures pounce on them 

336 ODYSSEY * BOOK XXII [ 30l 

and kill, while people looking on applaud the .sport. So d 
Odysseus’ party chase the Suitors pell-mell through the hall ai: 
hack them down. Skulls cracked, the hideous groans of dyk 
men were heard, and the whole Hour ran with blood, 

Lcodcs rushed forward, clasped Odysseus knees and bur 
into an anguished appeal: 4 1 throw myself on your mere 
Odysseus. Have some regard and pity for me, 1 swear to yo 
that never, by word or deed, have I done wrong to a woman i 
the house. In fact I did my best to hold them all back from sue 
evil courses. But they wouldn’t listen when I told them tukee 
their hands from mischief, and their own iniquities hav 
brought them to this awful pass. But I was only their priest; 
did nothing. And now I am to share their fate! Iliac is all th 
thanks one gets for the goodness one has shown.’ 

Odysseus looked at him with disgust. ‘You say you were tbei 
priest/ he answered. ‘ How often, then, yon must have prayed ii 
this hall that the happy day of my return might be put off, an< 
that my dear wife might be yours and bear your children. Fa 
that, nothing shall save you from the bitterness id death/ And hi 
laid his great hand on a sword dropped on the ground by Age 
Inns as he died, and with it struck Let ales full in the neck, sc 
that his head met the dust before he ceased to speak. 

The minstrel Phemius, Ter pi us’ son, who served as their tin* 
willing bard, had so far managed to escape destruction. I lestnoc 
now close to the postern door, I Its lyre lay silent in his hands, 
and he was debating in his mind whether to slip out of the hall 
and seat himself at the great altar in the court, scene of so many 
burnt-offerings from Laertes and Odysseus to their I leasehold 
Zeus, or to come forward and pleat! for mercy at i klysseu/ feet. 
He weighed the two courses and decided to make* a direct appeal 
for mercy to the King. So he laid the hollow instrument on the 
ground half-way between the mixing-bowl and the silver- 
studded chair, and then ran up to Odysseus, flung Ins arms round 
his knees and poured out his plea: 4 1 throw myself on your 
mercy, Odysseus. Respect and pity nu\ You will repent it later 
if you kill a minstrel like me, who sing for gods and mem 1 had 


no teacher hut myself. All kinds of song spring unpremeditated 
to my lips; and I feel that I could sing for you as I could sing for a 
god. Think twice, therefore, before you cut my throat. Besides, 
your own son Telemachus could tell you that I never came to 
your house of my own free will or for pay to sing at the Suitors’ 
banquets, but only because brute force and numbers dragged 
me there.’ 

Prince Telemachus was near enough to Odysseus to overhear 
this appeal and quickly called out to his father: 4 Stop! The man 
is innocent. Don’t put him to the sword. And Medon the herald, 
who always looked after me at home when I was a boy, is an¬ 
other we must spare, unless indeed he has already been killed by 
Philoetius or the swineherd, or met you as you stormed through 
the hall.’ 

His words reached the herald’s ears. For Medon, wise in his 
generation, had wrapped himself up in the fresh hide of an ox 
and lay cowering under a high chair, where he had retired to 
escape destruction. He promptly emerged from this refuge and 
throwing off the hide made a dash for Telemachus, whom he 
clasped by the knees and implored for mercy: 4 My dear lad, 
here I am. Spare me, and speak for me to your father. Don’t let 
him kill me with that cruel sword, irresistible as he is and mad¬ 
dened by this gang who ate him out of house and home and 
hadn’t even the sense to treat you with respect.’ 

Odysseus in his wisdom smiled at the man and said: ‘Dismiss 
your fears. My son has saved you from the jaws of death to teach 
you the lesson, which I hope you’ll take to heart and preach, 
that virtue is a better policy than vice. Now quit the hall, you 
and the songful music-maker. Into the court with you out of 
this carnage, and sit there till I’ve done the work I have to do 

The two made off at once out of the hall into the open air and 
seated themselves at the altar of Zeus, peering about on every 
side and still expecting sudden death. Odysseus also took a good 
look round his house to see whether any survivors were hiding 
to escape their fate. But he found the whole company dead 




They lay in heaps in the blood and dust, like fish that the fishe 
men have dragged out of the grey surf in the meshes of their n 
onto a bend of the beach, to lie in masses on the sand gasping fi 
the salt sea water till the bright sun ends their lives. Thus, like 
catch of fish, the Suitors lay there heaped upon each other. 

‘Telemachus,’ said Odysseus to his son, ‘will you send tl 
nurse Eurycleia to me here? There is something I wish to t< 

Telemachus obediently went off, shook the door of t] 
women’s quarters and called out to Eurycleia, the old dam 
telling her to come at once as his father wished to speak to he 
and reminding her of her position as matron of the wome 
servants in the palace. 

His summons left Eurycleia speechless, but she opened t 
door of the apartments, came out and hurried along in Tel 
machus’ wake. She found Odysseus among the corpses of d 
fallen, spattered with blood and filth, like a lion when he com 
from feeding on some farmer’s bullock, with the blood dri 
ping from his breast and jaws on either side, a fearsome spe 
tacle. That was how Odysseus looked, with the gore thick < 
his legs and arms. But when Eurycleia saw the dead men ai 
that sea of blood her instinct was to raise a yell of triumph at t 
mighty achievement that confronted her. Odysseus, howevc 
checked her exuberance with a sharp rebuke: ‘ Restrain yourse 
old dame, and gloat in silence. I’ll have no jubilation here. It is; 
impious thing to exult over the slain. These men fell victims 
the hand of heaven and their own infamy. They paid respect 
no one who came near them - good men and bad were all alii 
to them. And now their own insensate wickedness has broug 
them to this awful end. But what of the women-servants in d 
house? Tell me which have been disloyal to me and which a 

‘My child,’ his fond old nurse replied, ‘I’ll tell you exactl 
Your have fifty women serving in your palace, whom we hr 
trained in household work and to card wool and make the bt 

r\C **]•./»<?,» or^ ttxmlvY* all t-nlrl whn havp takpn 


vicious ways and snap their fingers at me and Penelope herselfi 
Telemachus has only just grown up and his mother wouldn’t 
allow him to order the maids about. But let me go upstairs now 
to my lady’s apartments and give her the news. As luck would 
have it she has fallen asleep.’ 

'Don’t wake her yet,’ said the wise Odysseus. 'But tell the 
women who have disgraced themselves to come here.’ 

The old dame left the hall to inform the women that they 
must report themselves, while Odysseus called Telemachus and 
the two herdsmen to his side and gave them his immediate 
orders: ‘ Start carrying out the dead and make the women help 
you. Then clean the tables and our best chairs here with sponges 
soaked in water. When the whole place is tidied up, take the 
women out of the hall between the round-house and the great 
wall of the courtyard, and use your long swords on them, till 
none are left alive to remember their loves and the hours they 
stole in these young gallants’ arms. 

Wailing bitterly, with the tears streaming down their cheeks, 
the women all arrived together. Their first task was to remove 
the bodies of the slain, which they laid under the portico of the 
walled courtyard, propping them one against the other. Odys¬ 
seus himself took charge and hounded them on till they had 
finished their unwilling work. 

Next they washed down the tables and the beautiful chairs 
with sponges and water, after which Telemachus and the two 
herdsmen scraped the floor of the great hall with spades, while 
the maids removed the scrapings and got rid of them outside. 
Finally, when the whole house had been set in order, they took 
the women out of the building, and herded them between the 
round-house and the great courtyard wall in a narrow space 
from which there was no escape. Then Telemachus spoke. 

T swear I will not give a decent death,’ he said, ‘to women 
who have heaped dishonour on my head and on my mother’s, 
and slept with members of this gang.’ 

With that he took a hawser which had seen service on a blue- 
bowed ship, made one end fast to a high column in the portico, 



[ 467 - 

threw the other over the round-house, and pulled it taut at such 
a level as would keep their feet from touching earth. And then, 
like doves or long-winged thrushes caught in a net across the 
thicket where they come to roost, and meeting death where 
they had only looked for sleep, the women held their heads out 
in a row, and a noose was cast round each one’s neck to dispatch 
them in the most miserable way. For a little while their feet 
kicked out, but not for very long. 

Next Melanthius was dragged out across the court and 
through the gate. There with a sharp knife they sliced his nose 
and ears oft"; they ripped away his privy parts as raw meat for 
the dogs, and in their fury they lopped off his hands and feet. 
Then, after washing their own hands and feet, they went back 
indoors to Odysseus and the business was finished, 

Odysseus turned now to his fond old nurse. ‘ Hurycleiaf he 
said, ‘bring me somedisinfectant sulphur, and make me a fire so 
that l can fumigate die house. Also, ask Penelope to come here 
with her ladies-in-waiting and tell all the maids to come through 
into the hall/ 

‘My child/ said the doting old dame, ‘all that is right and 
proper. But let me bring you a cloak and tunic to put on, and 
don’t stand about like that in the house with your broad shoul¬ 
ders wrapped in rags, or people will be shocked/ 

But Odysseus knew his own mind. ‘The first thing I want/ 
he retorted, ‘is a fire in this hall/ 

Eurycleia did not disobey him. She made him a fire and 
brought the sulphur, with which Odysseus thoroughly fumi¬ 
gated the hall, the house, and the courtyard outside. 

Meanwhile the old lady went off through the royal palace to 
give the other women the news and tell them to come. They 
flocked out of their quarters, torch in hand, and welcomed 
Odysseus by Hinging their arms round his neck, showering 
affectionate kisses on his head and shoulders, and seizing both 
his hands. As for him, overwhelmed by tender feelings he broke 
down and sobbed. There was not one he failed to recognize. 



Ghtj ckling as she went, the old woman bustled upstairs to 
tell her mistress that her beloved husband was in the house. Her 
legs could hardly carry her fast enough, and her feet twinkled in 
their haste. As she reached the head of the bedstead, she cried: 

Wake up, Penelope, dear child, and see a sight you've longed 
for all these many days. Odysseus has come home, and high 
time too! And he's killed the rogues who turned his whole house 
inside out, ate up his wealth, and bullied his son/ 

Penelope was not caught off her guard. ‘My dear nurse/ she 
said, ‘the gods have made you daft. It's as easy for them to rob 
the wisest of their wits as to make stupid people wise. And now 
they’ve addled your brains, which used to be so sound. How dare 
you make sport of my distress by waking me when I had closed 
my eyes for a comfortable nap, only to tell me this nonsense? 
Never have I slept so soundly since Odysseus sailed away to that 
accursed place I cannot bring myself to mention. Off with you 
now downstairs and back into your quarters! If any of the other 
maids had come and awakened me to listen to such stuff I'd 
soon have packed her off to her own place with a box on the 
ears. You can thank your age for saving you from that.' 

But this did not silence the old nurse. ‘ I am not making fun of 
you, dear child,' she said. ‘ Odysseus really has come home, just 
as I told you. He’s the stranger whom they all scoffed at in the 
hall. Telemachus has known for some time that he was back, but 
had the sense to keep his father's plans a secret till he’d made 
those upstarts pay for their villainy/ 

Penelope’s heart leapt up. She sprang from the bed and clung 
to the old woman, with the tears streaming from her eyes and 
the eager words from her lips. ‘ Dear nurse/ she cried, ‘ I beg you 
for the truth! If he is really home, as you say, how on earth did 




he manage single-handed against that rascally crew who always 
hang about the house in a pack?’ 

‘I never saw a thing/ said Eurycleia. 'I knew nothing about 
it. All I heard was the groans of dying men. We sat petrified in 
a corner of our quarters, with the doors shut tightly on us, till 
your son Telemachus shouted to me to come out. His father had 
sent him to fetch me. And then I found Odysseus standing 
among the bodies of the dead. They lay round him in heaps all 
over the hard floor. It would have done you good to see him, 
spattered with blood and filth like a lion. By now all the corpses 
have been gathered together at the courtyard gate, while he has 
had a big fire made and is fumigating the palace. He sent me to 
call you to him. So come with me now, so that you two may 
enter into your happiness together after all the sorrows you have 
had. The hope you cherished so long is fulfilled for you today. 
Odysseus has come back to his own hearth alive; he has found 
both you and his son in the home, and he has had his revenge in 
his own palace on every one of the Suitors who were doing him 
such wrong/ 

‘Don't laugh too soon, dear nurse; don't boast about them 
yet/ said Penelope in her prudence, ‘You know how everyone 
at home would welcome the sight of him, and nobody more 
than myself and the son we brought into the world. But this talc 
of yours does not ring true. It must be one of the immortal gods 
that has killed the young lords, provoked, no doubt, by their 
galling insolence and wicked ways. For they respected nobody 
they met - good men and bad were all the same to them. And 
now their iniquities have brought them to this pass. Meanwhile 
Odysseus in some distant land has lost his chance of ever getting 
home, and with it lost his life/ 

‘My child/ her old nurse exclaimed, ‘how can you say such 
things! Here is your husband at his own fireside, and you de¬ 
clare he never will get home. What little faith you have always 
had! But let me tell you something else - a fact that proves the 
truth. You know the scar he had where he was wounded long 
ago by the white tusk of a boar? I saw that very scar when I was 


washing him, and would have told you of it, if Odysseus, for his 
own crafty purposes, hadn’t seized me by the throat and pre¬ 
vented me. Come with me now. I’ll stake my life upon it. If I’ve 
played you false, then kill me in the cruellest way you can.’ 

‘Dear nurse,’ Penelope replied, 4 you are a very wise old 
woman, but even you cannot probe into the minds of the ever¬ 
lasting gods. However, let us go to my son, so that I can see my 
suitors dead, together with the man who killed them.’ 

As she spoke she left her room and made her way downstairs, 
a prey to indecision. Should she remain aloof as she questioned 
her husband, or go straight up to him and kiss his head and 
hands? What she actually did, when she had crossed the stone 
threshold into the hall, was to take a chair in the firelight by the 
wall, on the opposite side to Odysseus, who was sitting by one 
of the great columns with his eyes on the ground, waiting to see 
whether his good wife would say anything to him when she 
saw him. For a long while Penelope, overwhelmed by wonder, 
sat there without a word. But her eyes were busy, at one mo¬ 
ment resting full on his face, and at the next falling on the ragged 
clothes that made him seem a stranger once again. It was Tele- 
machus who broke the silence, but only to rebuke her. 

4 Mother,’ he said, £ you strange, hard-hearted mother of mine, 
why do you keep so far from my father? Why aren’t you sitting 
at his side, talking and asking questions all the while? No other 
woman would have had the perversity to hold out like this 
against a husband she had just got back after nineteen years of 
misadventure. But then your heart was always harder than flint.’ 

4 My child, the shock has numbed it,’ she admitted. ‘I cannot 
find a word to say to him; I cannot ask him anything at all; I 
cannot even look him in the face. But if it really is Odysseus 
home again, we two shall surely recognize each other, and in an 
even better way; for there are tokens between us which only 
we two know and no one else has heard of. 

Patient Odysseus smiled, then turning briskly to his son he 
said: ‘Telemachus, leave your mother to put me to the proof 
here in our home. She will soon come to a better mind. At the 




moment, because I’m dirty and in rags, she gives me the c< 
shoulder and won’t admit that I’m Odysseus. But you an 
must consider what is best to be done. When a man has kille 
fellow-citizen, just one, with hardly any friends to carry on t 
feud, he is outlawed, he leaves his kith and kin and flies t 
country. But we have killed the pick of the Ithacan nobilii 
the mainstay of our state. There is a problem for you/ 

‘One you must grapple with yourself, dear father,’ To 
machus shrewdly rejoined. ‘ For at getting out of a difficulty y< 
are held to be the best man in the world, with no one else 
touch you. We will follow your lead with alacrity, and I m; 
say with no lack of courage either, so far as in us lies/ 
Odysseus was not at a loss. ‘As I see it, then,’ he said, 4 our be 
plan will be this. Wash yourselves first, put on your tunics, ar 
tell the maids in the house to get dressed. Then let our excellei 
minstrel strike up a merry dance-tune for us, loud as his lyre cs 
play, so that if the music is heard outside by anyone passing j 
the road or by one of our neighbours, they may imagine there 
a wedding-feast. That will prevent the news of the Suitor 
death from spreading through the town before we can beat 
retreat to our farm among the orchards. Once there, we sha 
see. Providence may play into our hands.’ 

They promptly put his idea into practice. The men washe 
and donned their tunics, while the women decked themselvc 
out. The admirable bard took up his hollow lyre and had ther 
soon intent on nothing but the melodies of song and the nicetk 
of the dance. They made the great hall echo round them to th 
feet of dancing men and women richly clad. ‘Ah!’ said th 
passers-by as the sounds reached their ears. ‘ Somebody has mat 
ried our much-courted queen. The heartless creature! Too fickl 
to keep patient watch over the great house till her lawful hus 
band should come back! ’ Which shows how little they kne\ 
what had really happened. 

Meanwhile the great Odysseus, in his own home again, ha< 
himself bathed and rubbed with oil by the housekeeper Eury 
nome, and was fitted out by her in a beautiful cloak and tunic 


Athene also played her part by enhancing his comeliness from 
head to foot. She made him look taller and sturdier than ever; 
she caused the bushy locks to hang from his head thick as the 
petals of the hyacinth in bloom; and just as a craftsman trained 
by Hephaestus and herself in the secrets ofhis art takes pains to 
put a graceful finish to his work by overlaying silver-ware with 
gold, she finished now by endowing his head and shoulders with 
an added beauty. He came out from the bath looking like one of 
the everlasting gods, then went and sat down once more in the 
chair opposite his wife. 

‘ What a strange creature! ’ he exclaimed. ‘Heaven made you 
as you are, but for sheer obstinacy you put all the rest of your 
sex in the shade. No other wife could have steeled herself to keep 
so long out of the arms of a husband she had just got back after 
nineteen years of misadventure. Well, nurse, make a bed for me 
to sleep alone in. For my wife’s heart is just about as hard as iron.’ 

‘You too are strange,’ said the cautious Penelope. ‘I am not 
being haughty or indifferent. I am not even unduly surprised. 
But I have too clear a picture of you in my mind as you were 
when you sailed from Ithaca in your long-oared ship. Come, 
Eurycleia, make him a comfortable bed outside the bedroom 
that he built so well himself. Place the big bed out there, and 
make it up with rugs and blankets, and with laundered sheets.’ 

This was her way of putting her husband to the test. But 
Odysseus flared up at once and rounded on his loyal wife. ‘ Pene¬ 
lope,’ he cried, ‘you exasperate me! Who, if you please, has 
moved my bed elsewhere? Short of a miracle, it would be hard 
even for a skilled workman to shift it somewhere else, and the 
strongest young fellow alive would have a job to budge it. For a 
great secret went into the making of that complicated bed; and 
it was my work and mine alone. Inside the court there was a 
long-leaved olive-tree, which had grown to full height with a 
stem as thick as a pillar. Round this I built my room of close-set 
stone-work, and when that was finished, I roofed it over 
thoroughly, and put in a solid, neatly fitted, double door. Next 
I lopped all the twigs off the olive, trimmed the stem from the 



root up, rounded it smoothly and carefully with my adze a 
trued it to the line, to make my bedpost. This I drilled throu; 
where necessary, and used as a basis for the bed itself, whicl 
worked away at till that too was done, when I finished it c 
with an inlay of gold, silver, and ivory, and fixed a set ofpurp 
straps across the frame. 

‘There is our secret, and I have shown you that I know i 
What I don’t know, madam, is whether my bedstead stam 
where it did, or whether someone has cut the tree-trunk throug 
and shifted it elsewhere/ 

Her knees began to tremble as she realized the complet 
fidelity ofhis description. All at once her heart melted. Burs tin.: 
into tears she ran up to Odysseus, threw her arms round his necl 
and kissed his head. ‘ Odysseus/ she cried, ‘do not be cross witl 
me, you who were always the most reasonable of men. All ou; 
unhappiness is due to the gods, who couldn t bear to see us shan 
the joys of youth and reach the threshold of old age together, 
But don’t be angry with me now, or hurt because the moment 
when I saw you first 1 did not kiss you as I kiss you now. For 1 
had always had the cold fear in my heart that somebody might 
come here and bewitch me with his talk. There are plenty of 
rogues who would seize such a chance; and though Argive 
Helen would never have slept in her foreign lover’s arms had 
she known that her countrymen would go to war to fetch her 
back to Argos, even she, the daughter of Zeus, was tempted by 
the goddess and fell, though the idea of such madness had never 
entered her head till that moment, which was so fateful for the 
world and proved the starting-point of alj. our sorrows too. But 
now all’s well. You have faithfully described our token, the 
secret of our bed, which no one ever saw but you and I and one 
maid, Actoris, who was my father’s gift when first I came to 
you, and sat as sentry at our bedroom door. You have convinced 
your unbelieving wife/ 

Penelope’s surrender melted Odysseus’ heart, and he wept as 
he held his dear wife in his arms, so loyal and so true. Sweet mo¬ 
ment too for her, sweet as the sight ofland to sailors struggling 


in the sea, when the Sea-god by dint of wind and wave has 
wrecked their gallant ship. What happiness for the few swim¬ 
mers that have fought their way through the white surf to the 
shore, when, caked with brine but safe and sound, they tread on 
solid earth! If that is bliss, what bliss it was for her to see her hus¬ 
band once again! She kept her white arms round his neck and 
never quite let go. Dawn with her roses would have caught 
them at their tears, had not Athene of the flashing eyes bestirred 
herself on their behalf. She held the long night lingering in the 
West, and in the East at Ocean’s Stream she kept Dawn waiting 
by her golden throne, and would not let her yoke the nimble 
steeds who bring us light, Lampus and Phaethon, the colts that 
draw the chariot of Day. 

But there was one thing which Odysseus had the wisdom 
soon to tell his wife. ‘ My dear,’ he said, ‘ we have not yet come 
to the end of our trials. There lies before me still a great and 
hazardous adventure, which I must see through to the very end 
however far that end may be. That was what Teiresias’ soul pre¬ 
dicted for me when I went down to the House ofHades to find a 
way home for my followers and myself. So come to bed now, 
my dear wife, and let us comfort ourselves while we can with a 
sweet sleep in each other’s arms.’ 

Prudent Penelope answered: ‘Your bed shall be ready the 
moment you wish to use it, now that the gods have brought you 
back to your own country and your lovely home. But since it 
did occur to you to speak of this new ordeal, please tell me all 
about it; for I shall certainly find out later, and it could be no 
worse to hear at once.’ 

‘ Why drag it out of me?’ he asked reproachfully. * Well, you 
shall hear the whole tale. I’ll make no secret ofit. Not that you’ll 
find it to your liking! I am not pleased myself. For he told me to 
take a well-cut oar and wander on from city to city, till I came to 
a people who know nothing of the sea, and never use salt with 
their food, so that our crimson-painted ships and the long oars 
that serve those ships as wings are quite beyond their ken. Of 
this, he said that I should find conclusive proof, as you shall hear, 



when I met some other traveller who spoke of the “winnowir 
fan” I was carrying on my shoulder. Then, he said, the til 
would have come for me to plant my oar in the earth and of 
the Lord Poseidon the rich sacrifice of a ram, a bull, and a bree 
ing boar. After that I was to go back home and make ceremon 
sacrifices to the everlasting gods who live in the far-flu 
heavens, to all of them, this time, in due precedence. As for r 
end, he said that Death would come to me in his gentlest foi 
out of the sea, and that when he took me I should be worn c 
after an easy old age and surrounded by a prosperous folk, j 
swore that I should find all this come true/ 

‘Well then/ Penelope sagely replied, ‘if Providence plans 
make you happier in old age, you can always be confident 
escaping from your troubles/ 

While they were talking, Eurynome and the nurse, by t 
light of torches, were putting soft bedclothes for them on th 
bed. When the work was done and the bed lay comfortal 
spread, the old woman went back into her own quarters for t 
night, and the housekeeper Eurynome, with a torch in 1 
hands, lit them on their way to bed, taking her leave when s 
had brought them to their room. And glad indeed they were 
lie once more together in the bed that had known them lo 
ago. Meanwhile Telemachus, the cowman, and the swinehe 
brought their dancing feet to rest, made the women finish tc 
and lay down for the night in the darkened hall. 

But Odysseus and Penelope, after their love had taken 
sweet course, turned to the fresh delights of talk, and inti 
changed their news. He heard this noble wife tell of all she h 
put up with in his home, watching that gang of wreckers at th 
work, of all the cattle and fat sheep that they had slaughtered i 
her sake, of all the vessels they had emptied of their wine. And 
his turn, royal Odysseus told her of all the discomfiture he h 
inflicted on his foes and all the miseries which he himself h 
undergone. She listened spellbound, and her eyelids ne^ 

closed in sleep till the whole tale was finished. 

~ U;„ c~„4. n:**~*« A U.v ™ 


to the fertile land where the Lotus-eaters live. He spoke of what 
the Cyclops did, and the price he had made him pay for the 
gallant men he ruthlessly devoured. He told her ofhis stay with 
Aeolus, so friendly when he came and helpful when he left; and 
how the gale, since Providence would not let him reach his 
home so soon, had caught him up once more and driven him in 
misery down the highways of the fish. Next came his call at 
Telepylus on the Laestrygonian coast, where the savages de¬ 
stroyed his fleet and all his fighting men, the black ship that 
carried him being the only one to get away. He spoke of Circe 
and her magic arts; ofhow he sailed across the seas to the mould¬ 
ering Halls of Hades to consult the soul ofTheban Teiresias, and 
saw all his former comrades and the mother who had borne him 
and nursed him as a child. He told her how he had listened to the 
rich music of the Sirens’ song; how he had sailed by the Wander¬ 
ing Rocks, by dread Charybdis, and by Scylla, whom no sailors 
pass unscathed; how his men had killed the cattle of the Sun; 
how Zeus the Thunderer had struck his good ship with a flam¬ 
ing bolt, and all his loyal band had been killed at one fell swoop, 
though he escaped their dreadful fate himself. He described his 
arrival at the Isle of Ogygia and his reception by the Nymph 
Calypso, who had so much desired to marry him that she kept 
him in her cavern home, a pampered guest, tempted by prom¬ 
ises of immortality and ageless youth, but inwardly rebellious 
to the end. Finally he came to his disastrous voyage to Scherie, 
where the kind-hearted Phaeacians had treated him like a god 
and sent him home by ship with generous gifts of bronze ware 
and of gold, and woven stuffs. He had just finished this last tale, 
when sleep came suddenly upon him, relaxing all his limbs as it 
resolved his cares. 

Once more Athene of the flashing eyes took thought on his 
behalf. Not till she was satisfied that he had had his fill of love 
and sleep in his wife’s arms, did she arouse the lazy Dawn to 
leave her golden throne by Ocean Stream and to bring daylight 
to the world. At last Odysseus rose from that soft bed ofhis and 
told Penelope his plans. ‘ Dear wife,’ he said, ‘ the pair of us have 


had our share of trials, you here in tears because misfortur 
dogged each step I took to reach you, and I yearning to get bac 
to Ithaca but kept in cheerless exile by Zeus and all the gods thei 
are. Nevertheless we have had what we desired, a night spent i 
each other’s arms. So now I leave the house and my belonging 
in your care. As for the ravages that gang of profligates hav 
made among my flocks, I shall repair the greater part by raidin 
on my own, and the people must contribute too, till they hav 
filled up all my folds again. But at the moment I am going to ou 
orchard farm, to see my good father, who has been so miserabl 
on my account. And this, my dear, is what I wish you to do 
though you are too wise to need my instructions. Since it will b< 
common knowledge, as soon as the sun is up, that I have killec 
the Suitors in the palace, go with your ladies-in-waiting to you: 
room upstairs and stay quietly there, see nobody, and ask nc 

Odysseus donned his splendid body-armour, woke up Tele- 
machus, the cowman, and the swineherd, and told them all tc 
arm themselves with weapons. They carried out his orders and 
were soon equipped in bronze. Then they opened the doors and 
sallied out with Odysseus at their head. It was broad daylight 
already, but Athene hid them in darkness and soon had them 
clear of the town. 



Meanwhile Cyllenian Hermes was gathering in the souls of 
the Suitors, armed with the splendid golden wand that he can 
use at will to cast a spell on our eyes or wake us from the sound¬ 
est sleep. He roused them up and marshalled them with this, and 
they obeyed his summons gibbering like bats that squeak and 
flutter in the depths of some mysterious cave when one of them 
has fallen from the rocky roof, losing his hold on his clustered 
friends. With such shrill discord the company set out in Hermes 9 
charge, following the Deliverer down the dark paths of decay. 
Past Ocean Stream, past the White Rock, past the Gates of the 
Sun and the region of dreams they went, and before long they 
reached the meadow of asphodel, which is the dwelling-place 
of souls, the disembodied wraiths of men. 

Here they encountered the souls of Peleus 9 son Achilles, of 
Patroclus, of the noble Antilochus, and of Aias, who in stature 
and in manly grace was second to none of the Danaans but the 
peerless son of Peleus. These had forgathered with Achilles 9 
soul, and now' they were joined by that of Agamemnon, Atreus 
son, who came to them still plunged in grief and still surrounded 
by the souls of all that met their doom and died with him in 
Aegisthus 9 house. Achilles 9 soul spoke first. ‘Agamemnon, 9 he 
said to him, ‘we used to think of you, among all our princes, as 
the lifelong favourite of Zeus the Thunderer, because of the 
great and gallant army you commanded in Troyland when we 
Achaeans fought those hard campaigns. But you too were to be 
visited in your prime by that fell power whom no man bom can 
evade. How I wish you could have met your fate and died at 
Troy in the full enjoyment of your royal state. For then the 
whole nation would have joined in building you a mound and 
you would have left a great name for your son to inherit. But 

352 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXIV [ 34 - 

as things were, you were doomed to die a most appalling 
death. 5 

‘Illustrious Prince Achilles, 5 the soul of Atreus 5 son replied, 
‘yours was the happy death, in Troyland far away from Argos, 
with the flower of the Trojan and Achaean forces falling round 
you in the battle for your corpse. There in a whirl of dust you 
lay, great even in your fall, thinking no longer of a charioteer's 
delights. And the whole day long we fought. Indeed we never 
would have ceased had Zeus not stopped us with a storm. Then 
we carried you off from the batdefield to the ships, cleaned your 
fair flesh with warm water and unguents, and laid you on a bed. 
Your countrymen gathered round you; hot tears were shed, 
and many locks of hair were cut. Your mother, when she heard 
the news, came up from the sea with the deathless Sea-Nymphs, 
and a mysterious wailing rose from the waters. The whole army 
was seized by panic and would have fled on board the ships, if 
one man, Nestor, had not used his knowledge of our ancient 
lore. And it was not the first time that his wisdom triumphed. 
He came forward and checked them in his friendly way. “Halt, 
Argives! 55 he shouted. “Achaeans, stand your ground! This is 
Achilles 5 mother who has come out of the sea with her im¬ 
mortal Nymphs to see her dead son's face. 55 He stopped the 
panic, and the troops plucked up their hearts. They saw the 
Daughters of the Old Sea-god, dressed in the robes of immor¬ 
tality and shedding bitter tears, take up their stand around your 
corpse. The Nine Muses too were there, chanting your dirge in 
sweet antiphony, till not a dry eye was to be seen in all the 
Argive force, so poignant was the Muses 5 song. 

‘ For seventeen days and seventeen nights we mourned for 
you, immortal gods and mortal men alike; and on the eighteenth 
day we committed you to the flames, with a rich sacrifice of 
fatted sheep and shambling cattle at your pyre. You were burnt 
in the clothing of the gods, in lavish unguents and sweet honey; 
and an armed company of Achaean nobles, on foot or in their 
chariots, moved in procession round the pyre where you were 
burning and filled the air with sound. When the sacred flames 



- 109 ] 

had consumed you, we gathered your white bones at dawn, 
Achilles, and laid them by in unmixed wine and oil. Then your 
mother gave us a golden urn, a gift, she said, from Dionysus, 
made by the great Hephaestus. In this your white bones lie, my 
lord Achilles, and mingled with them the bones of Menoetius’ 
son Patroclus, dead before you, and separately those of Anti- 
lochus, who was your closest friend after Patroclus’ death. Over 
them all, we soldiers of the mighty Argive force built up a great 
and glorious mound, on a foreland jutting out over the broad 
waters of the Hellespont, so that it might be seen far out at sea by 
the sailors of today and future ages. Then, in the middle of the 
lists where the Achaean champions were to test their skill, your 
mother placed the magnificent prizes she had asked the gods to 
give. You must often have attended royal funerals yourself, 
when the young men strip and make ready for the games by 
which they honour their dead king, but the splendid prizes 
offered in your honour by the divine Thetis of the Silver Feet 
would have struck you as the most wonderful you had ever seen. 
For the gods loved you very dearly. Thus even death, Achilles, 
did not destroy your glory and the whole world will honour 
you for ever. But what satisfaction is there now for me in having 
brought the war to a successful close? For on my very journey 
home Zeus planned a miserable end for me, at the hands of 
Aegisthus and my unconscionable wife.’ 

Their talk was interrupted now by the near approach of 
Hermes the Giant-slayer, ushering into the world below the 
ghosts of the Suitors whom Odysseus had killed. Astonished at 
the sight of all these newcomers, the pair moved quickly up, and 
the soul of Agamemnon was able to recognize the noble Am- 
phimedon, Melaneus’ son, who had entertained him in his home 
in Ithaca. Agamemnon’s soul did not wait for him to speak, but 
greeted him at once. ‘Amphimedon,’ he said, * what catastrophe 
has brought you down into the bowels of the earth with this 
chosen band of men of your own age, as carefully picked as 
though one had gone round and taken the very flower of 
—-- r*stA\ vnnr shim in a sale and 




overwhelm you in the heavy seas? Or did you fall to some b 
tile tribe on land as you were lifting their cattle and their floe 
or fighting with them for their town and women? Pray tell 1 
for you and I have been host and guest. Or have you forgot 
the time when I came over to your house in Ithaca with Kj 
Menelaus to persuade Odysseus to join forces with me in \ 
naval expedition against Ilium? It was a full month after tl 
before we had made the long sea passage, so hard did we fine 
to win over the man who now is styled the Sacker of Citic 

‘August and imperial Agamemnon/ the soul of Amp] 
medon replied, ‘I well remember all that your majesty has i 
referred to, and will give you a full and honest account of t 
events that culminated in our tragic death. 

‘ In the prolonged absence of Odysseus we began to pay o 
addresses to his wife. These proved distasteful to her, but instc; 
of refusing us outright or taking the final step, she schemed 
bring about our downfall and our death. Here is a sample of tl 
woman’s guile. On her loom at home she set up a great web ar 
began weaving a large and delicate piece of work. And she sai 
to us: “I should be grateful to you young lords who are courtin 
me now that King Odysseus is dead, if you could restrain yoi 
ardour for my hand till I have done this work, so that the threat 
I have spun may not be utterly wasted. It is a winding-sheet fc 
Lord Laertes. When he succumbs to the dread hand of Dead' 
which stretches all men out at last, I must not risk the scands 
there would be among my countrywomen here, if one who ha< 
amassed such wealth were put to rest without a shroud.” That i 
how she talked, and we, like gentlemen, let her persuade us 
with the result that by day she wove at the great web, but ever] 
night had torches set beside it and undid the work. For thre< 
years she fooled us with this trick. A fourth began, and th< 
seasons were already slipping by, when one of her women, whe 
knew all about it, gave her mistress away. We caught her un¬ 
ravelling her beautiful work, and she was forced reluctantly to 
complete it. But no sooner had she woven the great web, laun¬ 
dered the robe and shown it to us gleaming like the sun or moon, 




than the powers of evil landed Odysseus out of the blue m a 
distant comer of his estate where the swineherd had his cabin 
His son, Prince Telemachus, just back from sandy Pylos m his 
ship, made for the same spot too They put their heads together, 
planned our assassination, and made their way to the city of 
Ithaca, or rather, Telemachus served as vanguard and Odysseus 
followed later The swmeherd brought him down disguised m 
rags, and looking like a wretched old beggar as he hobbled 
along with his staff He was so disreputably dressed that not a 
man m our party, not even the older members, could realize 
that this was Odysseus when he suddenly appeared among us. 
In fact we gave him the rough side of our tongues and threw 
things at his head For a while he had the self-control to put up 
patiently with this man-handling and abuse m his own palace 
But presently the spirit stirred withm him With Telemachus’ 
help he removed the excellent weapons they possessed and 
stowed them m the arsenal behind locked doors Then, for his 
own cunning purposes, he prevailed on his wife to challenge our 
skill with a bow and some grey iron axes, toys that were to play 
a leading part in the slaughter of my unhappy company Not 
one of us could string the mighty weapon, mdeed we were too 
weak by far But when it came to handing the great bow to 
Odysseus, we all protested loudly that he shouldn’t have it, 
however much he argued Telemachus was the only one who en¬ 
couraged him to take it And so that great and reckless man got 
his hands on the bow, which he strung without effort, and shot 
through the iron marks Then he leapt onto the threshold and 
with murder m his eye poured out his arrows, and shot Prmce 
Antmous down, after which, aiming straight in every case, he 
let fly at the rest of us with his deadly shafts We fell thick and 
fast, and it was obvious that some god was on their side For 
presently their fury gave them confidence to charge through 
the hall and they hacked us down right and left Skulls cracked, 
the hideous groans of dying men were heard, and the whole 
floor ran with blood 

‘That, Agamemnon, is how we were destroyed And our 

356 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXIV [ 187 - 

corpses still lie uncared for in Odysseus’ house, since the news 
has not yet reached our several homes and brought our friends 
to wash the dark blood from our wounds, to lay our bodies out 
and mourn for us, as is a dead man’s right.* 

‘Unconquerable Odysseus!’ the soul of Agamemnon cried. 
‘Ah, happy prince, blessed in Icarius’ daughter with a wife in 
whom all virtues meet, flawless Penelope, who has proved her¬ 
self so good and wise, so faithful to her wedded love! Her glory 
will not fade with the years, but the deathless gods themselves 
will make a song for mortal ears, to grace Penelope the constant 
queen. What a contrast with Clytaemnestra and the infamy she 
sank to when she killed her wedded lord! Her name will be 
cursed wherever she is sung. She has branded all her sex, with 
every honest woman in it.’ 

While the souls stood there in Hades’ Halls, conversing in the 
bowels of the earth, Odysseus’ party left the town behind, and 
before long had reached the rich and well-run farmlands of 
Laertes, which he had wrested from their natural state by his 
own exertions long ago. Here was his cottage, surrounded by 
outbuildings, where the serfs that laboured for him had their 
meals and sat and slept. An old Sicilian woman lived in the cot¬ 
tage, devoting all her care to the old man’s comfort in this rural 

When they reached the spot, Odysseus said to Telemachus 
and his men: ‘ Go into the main building now and make haste to 
kill the best pig you can find for our midday meal. Meanwhile I 
shall try an experiment with my father, to find out whether he 
will remember me and realize who it is when he sees me, or fail 
to know me after so long an absence.’ 

As he spoke, he handed his weapons of war to the servants, 
who then went straight into the house, while Odysseus moved 
off towards the luxuriant vineyard intent on his experiment. As 
he made his way down into the great orchard, he fell in neither 
with Dolius nor with any of the serfs or Dolius’ sons, who had 
all gone with the old man at their head to gather stones for the 
vineyard wall. Thus he found his father alone on the vineyard 

- 264 ] the feud is ended 357 

terrace digging round a plant. He was wearing a filthy, patched, 
and disreputable tunic, a pair of stitched leather gaiters strapped 
round his shins to protect them from scratches, and gloves to 
save his hands from the brambles; while to crown all, and by 
way of emphasizing his misery, he had a hat of goatskin on his 
head. When the gallant Odysseus saw how old and worn his 
father looked and realized how miserable he was, he halted 
under a tall pear-tree and the tears came into his eyes. Nor could 
he make up his mind at once whether to hug and kiss his father, 
and tell him the whole story ofhis own return to Ithaca, or first 
to question him and find out what he thought. In the end he 
decided to start by assuming a brusque manner in order to draw 
the old man out, and with this purpose in view he now went 
straight up to his father. 

Laertes was still hoeing round his plant with his head down, 
as his famous son came up and accosted him. 

1 Old man/ said Odysseus, ‘you have everything so tidy here 
that I can see there is little about gardening that you do not 
know. There is nothing, not a green thing in the whole en¬ 
closure, not a fig, olive, vine, pear, or vegetable bed that does 
not show signs of your care. On the other hand I cannot help 
remarking, I hope without offence, that you don’t look after 
yourself very well; in fact, what with your squalor and your 
wretched clothes, old age has hit you very hard. Yet it can’t be 
on account of any laziness that your master neglects you, nor is 
there anything in your build and size to suggest the slave. You 
look more like a man of royal blood, the sort of person who 
enjoys the privilege of age, and sleeps on a soft bed when he has 
had his bath and dined. However, tell me whose serf you are. 
And whose is this garden you look after? The truth, if you 
please. And there’s another point you can clear up for me. Am I 
really in Ithaca? A fellow I met on my way up here just now 
assured me that I was. But he was not very intelligent, for he 
wouldn’t deign to answer me properly or listen to what I said, 
when I mentioned a friend of mine and asked him whether he 
was still in the land of the living or dead and gone by now. You 

358 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXIV [265- 

shall learn about this friend yourself ifyou pay attention to what 
I say. Some time ago in my own country I befriended a stranger 
who turned up at our place and proved the most attractive 
visitor I have ever entertained from abroad. He said he was an 
Ithacan, and that Arceisius’ son Laertes was his father. I took him 
in, made him thoroughly welcome and gave him every hos¬ 
pitality that my rich house could afford, including presents 
worthy ofhis rank. Seven talents of wrought gold he had from 
me, a solid silver wine-bowl with a floral design, twelve single- 
folded cloaks, twelve rugs, twelve splendid mantles and as many 
tunics too, and besides all this, four women as skilled in fine 
handicraft as they were good to look at. I let him choose them 
for himself/ 

‘Sir/ said his father to Odysseus, with tears on his cheeks, ‘I 
can assure you that you’re in the place you asked for; but it’s in 
the hands of rogues and criminals. The gifts you lavished on 
your friend were given in vain, though, had you found him 
alive in Ithaca, he would never have let you go before he had 
made you an ample return in presents and hospitality, as is right 
when such an example has been set. But pray tell me exactly how 
long ago it was that you befriended the unfortunate man, for 
that guest of yours was my unhappy son - if ever I had one - my 
son, who far from friends and home has been devoured by fishes 
in the sea or fallen a prey, maybe, to the wild beasts and birds on 
land. Dead people have their dues, but not Odysseus. We had no 
chance, we two that brought him into the world, to wrap his 
body up and wail for him, nor had his richly dowered wife, con¬ 
stant Penelope, the chance to close her husband’s eyes and give 
him on his bier the seemly tribute of a dirge. 

‘ But you have made me curious about yourself. Who are you, 
sir? What is your native town? And where might she be 
moored, the good ship that brought you here with your gallant 
crew? Or were you travelling as a passenger on someone else’s 
ship, which landed you and sailed away?’ 

‘ I am quite willing/ said the resourceful Odysseus, ‘ to tell you 
all you wish to know. I come from Alybas. My home is in the 

-343 ] the feud is ended 359 

palace there, for my father is King Apheidas, Polypemon’s son. 
My own name is Eperitus. I had no intention of putting in here 
when I left Sicania, but had the misfortune to be driven out of 
my course; and my ship is riding yonder by the open coast some 
way from the port. As for Odysseus, it is four years and more 
since he bade me farewell and left my country - to fall on evil 
days, it seems. And yet the omens when he left were good, birds 
on the right, which pleased me as I said goodbye, and cheered 
him as he started out. We both had every hope that we should 
meet again as host and guest and give each other splendid gifts.’ 

When Laertes heard this, he sank into the black depths of de¬ 
spair. Groaning heavily, he picked the black dust up in both his 
hands and poured it on the grey hairs of his head. Odysseus’ 
heart was stirred, and suddenly, as he watched his dear father, 
poignant compassion forced its way through his nostrils. He 
rushed forward, flung his arms round his neck, and kissed him. 
‘Father,’ he cried, ‘here I am, the very man you asked about, 
home in my own land after nineteen years. But this is no time 
for tears and lamentation. For I have news to tell you, and heaven 
knows there is need for haste. I have killed that gang of Suitors 
in our palace. I have paid them out for their insulting gibes and 
all their crimes.’ 

Laertes answered him: ‘ Ifyou that have come here are indeed 
my son Odysseus, give me some definite proof to make me 

Odysseus was ready for this. ‘To begin with,* he said, ‘cast 
your eye on this scar, where I was wounded by the white tusk of 
a boar when I went to Parnassus. You and my mother had sent 
me to my grandfather Autolycus, to fetch the gifts he solemnly 
promised me when he came to visit us. Then again, I can tell you 
all the trees you gave me one day on this garden terrace. I was 
only a little boy at the time, trotting after you through the or¬ 
chard, begging for this and that, and as we wound our way 
through these very trees you told me all their names. You gave 
me thirteen pear-, ten apple-, and forty fig-trees, and at the same 
time you pointed out the fifty rows of vines that were to be 

360 ODYSSEY • BOOK XXIV [342- 

mine. Each ripened at a different time, so that the bunches on 
them were at various stages when the branches felt their weight 
under the summer skies/ 

Laertes realized at once that Odysseus’ evidence had proved 
his claim. With trembling knees and bursting heart he flung his 
arms round the neck of his beloved son, and stalwart Odysseus 
caught him fainting to his breast. The first words he uttered as 
he rallied and his consciousness returned were in reply to the 
news his son had given him. ‘By Father Zeus/ he cried, ‘you 
gods are still in your heaven, if those Suitors have really paid the 
price for their iniquitous presumption! But I have a horrible 
fear now that the whole forces oflthaca will soon be on us here, 
and that they will send urgent messages for help to every town 
in Cephallenia/ 

‘Have no fear/ said his resourceful son, ‘and don’t trouble 
your head about that; but come with me to the farmhouse here 
by the orchard, where I sent on Telemachus with the cowman 
and swineherd to prepare a meal as quickly as they could/ 

Accordingly the pair set out for the house, and there in the 
pleasant homestead they found Telemachus and the two herds¬ 
men carving lavish portions of meat and mixing the sparkling 
wine. The lord Laertes made use ofhis own house to have him¬ 
self bathed, anointed, and decked out in a fine mantle by his 
Sicilian maid-servant, and Athene herselfintervened to increase 
his royal stature. As he stepped out of the bath she made him 
seem taller and sturdier than before, so that his own son was 
amazed when he saw him looking like an immortal god. He 
could not repress his astonishment. ‘ Father! ’ he exclaimed. ‘ I do 
believe some god has made you handsomer and taller than 
ever!’ To which the wise old man replied: ‘By Father Zeus, 
Athene, and Apollo, if only I could have been the man I was 
when as King of the Cephallenians I took the stronghold of 
Nericus on the mainland cape, and could have stood by you 
yesterday in our palace, clothed in mail, to help you beat those 
rascals off! I warrant I’d have brought them down in plenty and 
delighted your heart! ’ 




While they were talking to one another, the others finished 
their work and prepared the meal They had just taken their 
seats at table and were falling to, when the old man Dolius came 
up with his sons, weary after their work, from which they had 
been called in by their mother, the old Sicilian, who saw to their 
food and looked after their old father with unfailing devotion 
now that his years sat heavily upon him. When they set eyes on 
Odysseus and realized who he was, they stopped short in amaze¬ 
ment half-way across the room. Odysseus greeted them with 
friendly chaff. ‘ Old man/ he said, ‘ sit down to your lunch. And 
the rest of you, don't stand gaping there! We have been hard 
put to it to keep our hands off the food in here, waiting all this 
time and expecting you every minute.' 

Dolius ran up with outstretched arms, seized Odysseus by 
the hand, and kissed him on the wrist. ‘ So you have come back 
to us, my dear master,’ he said with emotion, ‘and fulfilled our 
dearest wishes! We had given up hope, but heaven itself must 
have led you home. Here's health and happiness, and may the 
gods shower their blessings on you! But tell me this, for I am 
anxious - has our wise queen Penelope heard of your arrival 
here, or shall we send someone to tell her?' 

‘ She knows already, my old friend,' Odysseus answered 
'Don’t you trouble your head about that.' 

Dolius sat down again on his wooden stool, and now it was 
his sons’ turn to gather round the famous Odysseus, make him 
speeches of welcome, and shake him by the hand. Then they all 
took their seats by Dolius their father. 

But while Odysseus' party were discussing their meal in the 
farmhouse, whispering Rumour flew like wildfire through the 
town, with the fateful news of the Suitors' hideous death. As a 
result, a murmuring throng of mourners, coming in from all 
sides with one accord, gathered at Odysseus' gate. They carried 
out the corpses and each buried their dead, while those from the 
other towns were put on ships and dispatched in the crews care 
to their several homes. The disconsolate Ithacans then trooped 
out to the meeting-place, and there, when the Assembly was 



£ 422 -* 

complete, Eupeithes rose to address them, overcome by grief 
for Ms son Antinous, the first of the great Odysseus’ victims. 

4 Friends,’ he began, and tears for his son were streaming down 
Ms cheeks, 4 1 denounce Odysseus as the inveterate enemy of our 
race. Where is the gallant company he sailed away with? Lost 
by Mm, every one; and our good ships lost as well! And now he 
comes home and slaughters the very pick of the Cephallenians! 
Quick, I say. Before he can fly to Pylos or to Elis where the 
Epeians rule, let us make a move, or we’ll never be able to hold 
up our heads again. Our names will stink in the nostrils of our 
descendants if we do not avenge ourselves on the murderers of 
our sons and brothers. I, for one, should find no further pleasure 
in living, but should prefer to finish now and join the dead. To 
action then, or they may be across the seas before we move.’ 

Mis tearful appeal stirred all his countrymen to pity. But at 
this moment Medon and the minstrel appeared on the scene. On 
waking, they had come straight from the palace, and now took 
their stand in the centre of the assembly. Everyone wondered 
what this meant, but Medon, who was by no means a fool, en¬ 
lightened them at once. ‘Listen, my fellow-Ithacans,’ he said, 
c and you will understand that in acting as he did Odysseus was 
not without the guiding hand of heaven. With my own eyes I 
saw an immortal, who looked exactly like Mentor, standing at 
his side. And some divine being could be seen, at one moment 
ahead of Odysseus, cheering him on, and at the next charging 
down the hall and striking panic into the Suitors, who fell in 
heaps before him.’ 

Medon’s disclosure drained the blood from their cheeks; and 
now the aged lord Halitherses, the only man there who could 
look into the future as into the past, rose up to administer a well- 
meant rebuke. ‘Ithacans,’ he cried, ‘I beg for your attention. 
Your own wickedness, my friends, is to blame for what has hap¬ 
pened. You would not listen to me or to your leader Mentor, 
when we urged you to check your sons in their career of folly. 
They threw all restraint to the winds, and in plundering the 
estate and insulting the wife of a prince whom they counted on 


- 495 ] 


never seeing here again, they were guilty of a flagrant offence. I 
hope therefore that you will be persuaded by me when I pro¬ 
pose that we should take no action; or else I fear that some of 
you may bring your own doom on your heads/ 

At the end of this speech, more than half the audience, burst¬ 
ing into uproar, leapt to their feet, though a fair number re¬ 
mained in their seats. The old lord’s plain speaking had proved 
unpalatable; Eupeithes won the day. They rushed to arms, 
equipped themselves in their gleaming bronze and mustered in 
an open space beside the town. Eupeithes in his folly took com¬ 
mand. He saw himself avenging his son’s death, though in fact 
he was never to come back alive but to meet his own fate on 
the selfsame day. 

Athene now decided to consult with Zeus. ‘Father of ours/ 
she said to him, ‘ Son of Cronos, King of Kings, will you reveal 
to me the thoughts that are hidden in your heart? Are you plan¬ 
ning to prolong this strife, with the horrors and turmoil it 
entails, or to establish peace between the warring sides?’ 

To which the Cloud-gatherer replied: ‘ My child, why come 
to me with such questions? Was it not your own idea that Odys¬ 
seus should return and avenge himself on his enemies? Act as 
you please, though this is what I think most suitable myself. 
Since the admirable Odysseus has had his revenge on the 
Suitors, let them make a treaty of peace to establish him as king 
in perpetuity, with an act of oblivion, on our part, for the 
slaughter of their sons and brothers. Let the mutual goodwill 
of the old days be restored, and let peace and plenty prevail. 

"With this encouragement from Zeus, Athene, who had al¬ 
ready set her heart on action, sped down at once from the peaks 

of Olympus. . 

In the farmhouse, meanwhile, they had enjoyed a satisfying 
meal, when thegallant Odysseus suggested that someone should 
go out and discover whether the enemy were not yet in sight. 
One of Dolius’ sons jumped up and went to the threshold. 
Standing there, he saw the whole hostile force at no great dis¬ 
tance, and called excitedly to Odysseus: ‘ See! They are on us. 




Get ready, quick!’ Whereupon they leapt up and put their 
armour on. Odysseus and his followers made four; Dolius’ sons 
another six; and to them Laertes and Dolius himself must be 
added, for they armed themselves too, grey-headed though 
they were and forced by circumstance to fight. When all were 
clad in gleaming bronze they opened the gates and sallied out 
under Odysseus* leadership. 

They were now joined by Athene, Daughter of Zeus, who 
had assumed Mentor’s appearance and voice for the occasion. 
The stalwart Odysseus was overjoyed to see her. He turned at 
once to his dear son and said: ‘ Telemachus, when you find your¬ 
self in the thick ofbattle, where the best men prove their mettle, 
I am sure you will know how not to shame your father’s house. 
In all the world there has been none like ours for valour and for 
manly strength.’ And the wise Telemachus replied: ‘As you 
have said, dear father, in this present mood of mine your line 
will not be put to shame by me. You shall see that for yourself.’ 

Laertes was delighted. ‘Dear gods!’ he exclaimed. ‘What a 
day this is to warm my heart! My son and my grandson are 
competing in valour.’ 

Athene of the flashing eyes came up to him now and said: 
‘Laertes, dearest of all my friends, pray to the Lady of the flash¬ 
ing eyes and to Father Zeus; then quickly swing your long spear 
back and let it fly.’ 

As she spoke Pallas Athene breathed daring into the old man, 
who, with a prayer to the Daughter of Zeus, poised his long 
spear at once and hurled it. He struck Eupeithes on the bronze 
cheek-guard ofhis helmet. The helmet failed to stop the spear, 
the point burst through, and with a clang of armour Eupeithes 
crashed to earth. Then Odysseus and his noble son fell on the 
front rank of the enemy and smote them with their swords and 
double-pointed spears. They would have destroyed them all 
and seen that none went home alive, if Athene, Daughter of 
aegis-wearing Zeus, had not raised a great cry and checked the 
whole of the contending forces: ‘Ithacans, stop this disastrous 
fight and separate at once before more blood is shed.’ 




Athene’s cry struck panic into the Ithacans, who let their 
weapons go, in their terror at the goddess’ voice The arms all 
fell to earth, and the men turned citywards, intent on their own 
salvation The indomitable Odysseus raised a terrible war-cry, 
gathered himself together and pounced on them like a swoop¬ 
ing eagle. But at this moment Zeus let fly a flaming bolt, which 
fell in front of the bnght-eyed Daughter ofthat formidable Sire. 
Athene called out at once to Odysseus by his royal titles, com¬ 
manding him to hold his hand and bring this civil strife to a 
finish, for fear of offending the ever-watchful Zeus 
Odysseus obeyed her, with a happy heart And presently 
Pallas Athene, Daughter of aegis-weanng Zeus, still usmg 
Mentor’s form and voice for her disguise, established peace 
between the two contending forces 



Relationship to Zeus 




Daughter of Zeus and 

Goddess of Love 

. (Apollo) 

Son of Zeus and Leto 

God of light, music 
archery, prophecy 



Son of Zeus and Here 

God of war 


Daughter of Zeus and 

Goddess of wild life, 


Leto; twin sister of Apollo hunting, maidens 


£ (Minerva) 

Daughter of Zeus 

Goddess of defensive 
war, wisdom, arts of 
peace; patroness of 


Daughter of Atlas 

Nymph who kept 
Odysseus with her 


for seven years 


(Aurora) - 

Parentage doubtful , ^ 

Goddess of Dawn 

Avengers of impiety 
and other crimes 


(Pluto, Dis) 

Brother of Zeus 

God of the under¬ 
world and the dead 




Son of Zeus and Here 

God of fire and metal 
work; lame smith of 



Sister and wife of Zeus 

Goddess of marriage 
and wives; Queen of 

*\> , 

A ! 

Son of Zeus and Maia 

/a * i V\ 

f£f zl .' Af\ 


God of travellers, 
thieves, scholars; 
messenger of the gods